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Dragon Interview: Matthew Cottle Star of ‘Party Games’

Published on: 4 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 4 Apr, 2024

Matthew Cottle

Matthew Cottle will star in Party Games, an Yvonne Arnaud original production, opening here on  May 2.

Matthew will play John Waggner, Prime Minister and here he talks about the play and himself…

What can audiences expect when they come to see the show?

It’s a brand new political comedy and it’s very funny. It’s written by Michael McManus, who used to be a Tory aide and has since become a playwright, so he knows his stuff. He’s written very real, very funny characters and I guess it’s along the lines of Yes, Minister.

It’s set a couple of years in the future where the country’s in a really bad way [laughs] if you can believe that. Interest rates are high, as is unemployment, and a new party has formed – which is called the One Nation Party and is a merging of Tories and Labour MPs.

See also: Yvonne Arnaud Director on New Play ‘Party Games’

What is John Waggner’s role in the story?

He’s the party leader and he’s an ex-Tory MP who’s become quite popular doing a reality TV show. He’s a bit of a bumbler and a bit hopeless. [Laugh] Does that remind you of anyone? He’s also quite ruthless.

The play starts with him finding out that they’ve won the election but they haven’t got enough seats, so they’re trying to get the Scottish National Party on board. It’s all about the machinations of Westminster, the aides and what have you.

It’s an inside seat into what goes on and, as I say, it’s very funny. That’s what attracted me to it. I have no interest in politics but I love comedy, and while it sounds quite serious it’s two hours of laughs.

Can you relate to John in any way?

I guess I’m slightly bumbling, especially if you ask me political questions. I’m clueless on that score [laughs] but then so are some politicians. And I don’t think I have that ruthless streak in me that John does. I don’t have that level of ruthless ambition.

How does Michael bring his own experience to the script?

As I say, he really knows his stuff and he knows these people. We cover things like Brexit and AI, and it’s clearly been written by somebody who knows what he’s talking about. It also feels relevant to now, even though it is set in 2026.

In the story, Labour and the Conservatives have failed the nation and we’re on the edge of economic and social collapse. Millions of people have defaulted on their fuel bills, the stock market’s collapsed, sterling’s at an all-time low and Russia and China continue to threaten the rest of the world. The Labour and Tory parties have been ripped to tatters by MPs defecting to this new party. None of it is beyond the realms of what could actually happen, is it?

Do you have any predictions about what life will be like for us in a couple of years’ time?

Well, I’d like to think that the war in Ukraine would be over by then and that things will be a bit easier abroad because obviously all of that has had such a massive knock-on effect. Likewise, what’s happening in Gaza. The world is in a very delicate situation at the moment and politically over here you feel as if anything could happen at any time. And I do think that Labour will win the next election.

Matthew Cottle will lead the cast in Party Games

It’s a brand new play. Is it exciting for you to originate a character?

It is exciting, yes. With a comedy you never know what’s working, what’s funny and what have you until you put it in front of an audience. But is exciting to be the first person to say those lines. It’s quite thrilling, actually. And I haven’t worked with anybody else in the company before. I haven’t worked with the director Joanna Read before, so that adds to the excitement. And we’re touring to some really nice venues. You could call it the Waitrose tour because of all the classy venues we’re visiting!

When were you last on tour? And what have been your favourite stage roles over the years?

I did a tour last year of the George Bernard Shaw play Mrs Warren’s Profession with Caroline and Rose Quentin. That was a much smaller role, whereas with this one I’m on pretty much throughout – so that’s another exciting thing about it.

As for my favourite stage roles, I’ve worked with Alan Ayckbourn a lot and I love his stuff. He’s brilliant and he’s a master craftsman with how he ties everything together. Sometimes there’ll be something you plant early on in the play, then it comes back later and it gets a huge whoop from the audience. He’s so clever and hugely underrated in my opinion.

And I loved doing The Windsors in the West End. It was just after lockdown, so to be able go back in and do something that was just so silly was perfect. It was just what we and the audience needed.

You’ve also done lots of TV. Are there any shows people especially remember you from?

The one thing that people seem to remember is Game On, a lads’ comedy which was hugely cultish in the mid-90s. That became quite big and worked in my favour for a few years. Then more recently I guess it’s The Windsors. Citizen Kahn is another show that people seem to remember me from; I did four series of that! And I’m a jobbing actor, so I’ve popped up in all the usual things like Endeavour, Holby City and Doctors.

What do you most enjoy about touring?

You get to see the country, which is always nice, and it’s interesting when you’re doing a comedy. You’re suddenly in Aberdeen one week and they’re not laughing as much as they did in other places or they laugh at things that they didn’t laugh at in Guildford. It’s very interesting to see the different reactions depending on where you are playing.

The tour opens at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford. Does it have any significance for you?

I’ve got a mildly amusing story about when I did an Ayckbourn play there called Just Between Ourselves. Les Dennis was in it too and on the Saturday he said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we got a boat out between the matinee and the evening show, pulled up and had a little picnic?”

We all thought that was a great idea. So we get the boat and we have our picnic, and then we realise that we haven’t given ourselves enough time because the boat’s moving too slowly for us to get back for the evening show. So one of the stage management crew had to steer the boat back while we all sprinted along the bank.

We arrived at the theatre about five minutes before the show started, sweating and red-faced, but the audience was none the wiser.

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