Dennis Skinner play to chart life of 'Beast of Bolsover'

By Jennifer Harby
BBC News

Published
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Dennis Skinner was known as the Beast of Bolsover

A new play charting the life of one of Britain's most memorable politicians of recent years is due to premiere in Derby later.

The Palace of Varieties, based on the life and times of former Labour MP Dennis Skinner, will run at Derby Theatre.

Writer Kevin Fegan, from Derbyshire, said he hoped the production would provide audiences with an insight into Mr Skinner's soul.

The play will run until 5 February.

'An affinity'

Mr Fegan said he had worked closely with Mr Skinner - who was MP for Bolsover for almost half a century - as he created the drama, which has a set that moves seamlessly between the House of Commons and a Derbyshire working men's club.

"I was born in his constituency and feel an affinity with him," he said.

"I phoned him up [to discuss the play] and he said, 'Now then - I don't do emails. They can get held against you. I'd rather see people face-to-face or talk to them on the phone'."

Image source, Robert Day
Image caption,
Gareth Williams is one of three actors in the play

The play - which has just three cast members - is named The Palace of Varieties which was Mr Skinner's name for Westminster.

Gareth Williams - formerly of The Flying Pickets - plays Mr Skinner, with the remaining cast playing multiple parts, including Boris Johnson and Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Fegan - who has written for theatres nationwide, including Salford's Lowry and Leicester's Curve - charts Mr Skinner's political encounters through seismic events such as the miners' strike to defining modern issues such as Brexit, with the final scenes showing him losing his seat in the 2019 elections.

However, he said the play was an entertainment piece, rather than a political polemic.

"It's not Dennis Skinner The Musical but the play is punctuated with songs," he said.

"When he was taking me around Westminster, at one point he started singing to me and I realised that's the way into the man's soul.

"They're all things his mother used to sing - Gracie Fields and West End musicals."

Mr Fegan hopes to take the play on tour if it proves a hit.

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