The Three Lions poster reads: “A footballer, a prince and a prime minister walk into a hotel room..” First aired during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, the comedy has found home at St James’ theatre until 2 May this year before embarking on a national tour. It purports to offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what might have gone on between David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William in a Swiss hotel the night before England’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup.
Dugald Bruce-Lockhart reprises the role of the prime minister which he first played nearly two years ago. A former RSC actor who has appeared at the National Theatre, The Stage nominated him for Best Actor following his performance as Cameron at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Unlike his two co-stars, Bruce-Lockhart does not bare such a striking resemblance to his character. To compensate for this, he endeavoured to find out character traits to incorporate into the role through studying archive footage - including Cameron’s first conference speech as leader of the Conservatives in 2006.
“I don’t particularly look like David Cameron - so I thought well I’m not going to try and do an impersonation. I listened to a podcast he did in November 2010 about dealing with the country’s deficit, various speeches on the EU, I watched one of his very early Conservative conferences when he first got elected.
“When we first did this a year and a half ago, I was going on Web Cameron. I liked seeing him at home when he was off duty because politicians behave differently in private than in public. Then over the course of rehearsals I found manners and speech patterns – other things including physicality started to add to it. So it was a gradual period of osmosis but I didn’t at any point set out and say I’m going to do this and that exactly.
“His prominent mannerisms are his hands, his gestures, the rhythm of speech and certain vowel sounds. It feels quite studied in that sense – not unlike Margaret Thatcher – and everything is stressed, pronounced, underlined just to make sure the point absolutely gets across.”
The play was first performed 18 months ago, and Bruce-Lockhart suggests he has become more personally interested in Cameron over that time.
“I suppose I have become more interested in the man. As the play itself is a political satire – a character satire – it’s taking what people think they know about three world famous characters and putting a spin on what might have happened.
“There are interesting and fun quips that the writers put in about political events at the time and references that make people laugh but I have become more interested in him. I’m longing to meet him.”
Indeed, the actor tried to reach out to the Conservative leader while researching the role. His late uncle, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, who died aged 66 in 2008, was an acquaintance of the prime minister as a former Conservative chairman of Kent county council and member of the House of Lords.
His attempts at contacting the prime minister after meeting one of his speechwriters during the Fringe festival have been to no avail, however.
The play’s writer, William Gaminara, told the Telegraph in 2013 that “he was not so fond” of David Cameron. The actor playing him, however, takes an opposing view.
“I am fond of him. I didn’t come with any emotional baggage or thoughts about him before I saw the play. From an actor’s point of view you obviously have to like everybody you’re playing anyway.
“It’s interesting that Willy says that because it doesn’t come across in the writing.
"I mean yes Cameron is a man who is the least superstar in this particular line up, in terms of David Beckham and Prince William, and as things get more out of control he does that classic British stiff upper lip underdog thing of trying to stay on top. I think the way he behaves in the play is completely justifiable – I’d act in exactly the same way.”
Bruce-Lockhart believes that though the writer has “taken an actual situation and exaggerated it”. There are elements in the play that reflect how Cameron may have behaved, he claims.
"In terms of how he meets them and greets them, how he asks about their children, and then of course it goes off piste. I think he has observed that pretty well.”
Where art thou, impersonators?
It’s fair to say that impersonations of Cameron have not taken off in the way that they did with many of his predecessors. While the likes of Neil Kinnock, John Major and Tony Blair provided much inspiration for comedians, Bruce-Lockhart believes there might not be anything worth satirising with Cameron, as he faces an opposition unable to bring out his true character.
“People don’t have a take in that sense; impressionists find it hard to do him. What is it about him they might do?
“I think that the sceptics or cynics would say that he isn’t a standout character and put a negative spin on it. I think the more positively inclined would say that it’s because he is very eloquent himself and he is a natural diplomat.
“He isn’t and doesn’t have to be a leader that has to forcefully whack a point across because he does it with a rhetoric that is charming, witty and intelligent, and he’s also not got the kind of opposition against him that means he has to rely on that kind of personality trait. The more adverse your situation the more you have to raise your adversarial skills in terms of debate.
“Maybe comedians, stand-up comics, people who are observing him haven’t had a chance to see him under that duress. Under duress something might come out, and of course in this play that’s what happens.”
Clearly, Bruce-Lockhart is far from being the scathing critic of the Tory leader that many of those in comedy might well be. So would he like to see David Cameron as prime minister on May 8? The actor is unequivocal. “Yes, yes I would.”
Picture: Craig Sugden
The Three Lions runs between 24th March – 2nd May at the St James’ Theatre and will be reviewed by Total Politics soon. Tickets to the play are available here.