Alumni Services

Who should be king?

Alumnus, writer and filmmaker, Kevin Toolis explains why he was inspired to write a play about another famous alumnus, former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Kevin Toolis

The English pound, the independence referendum, and the storms on land and sea. Is there no end to the woes of political leadership? But what does it take to be the 'Big Man' and lead the nation?, so ponders alumnus Kevin Toolis, whose satirical play ‘The Confessions of Gordon Brown’ returns to Edinburgh in March for a week long run at the Traverse Theatre.

First performed at last year's Edinburgh Festival, the play sold out before moving to London’s West End.

Now it is back for a second showing in the Scottish capital from March 11 to 15 before opening at the Ambassadors Theatre, London in June and July.

Terrorism expert

Kevin Toolis was born in Edinburgh of Irish parents and studied English and Philosophy at Edinburgh University.

A terrorism expert and the author of a classic account of the Irish Troubles - Rebel Hearts: Journeys Within the IRA’s Soul. Toolis has written for the Guardian, the Observer, the New York Times and the Sunday Times, and reported on stories and conflicts in the United States, Africa, Europe, Iran and the Middle East.

A complex moral man

The Confessions of Gordon Brown

Kevin’s most recent work brought him closer to home as he set about deconstructing the short reign of the University’s third UK Prime Minister.

Remembering the words of my old philosophy tutor from Moral Philosophy 1, that only those capable of great good could be capable of great errors, I set out to write a play about Gordon Brown's fall.

Believing that, love him or loathe him, Gordon Brown was our greatest failure at being Prime Minister in 200 years, Kevin sets about exploring Gordon’s three years in power in Downing Street and, in doing so, exposes an unfolding Shakespearian tragedy and a figure who, Macbeth-like, faced constant troubles often from the forces he himself unleashed.

What went wrong?

In creating the play, Kevin talked to the inner court of Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander, and the pollsters Deborah Mattinson and Stan Greenberg and simply asked what had gone wrong. What was the combination of circumstances, qualities and faults that had led to Gordon’s undoing?

The resulting play is, in Kevin’s words, a rollicking satire that hilariously exposes the darkest secrets of being Prime Minister, the stab-in-the-back plottings, the betrayals and most importantly - the hair gel.

The real Gordon Brown

Given that the Labour Party initially tried to ban the play, what does Kevin Toolis actually think of his play’s protagonist?

My own view is that Gordon Brown was more sinned against than sinning, but fate and character are inescapably linked in the endeavours of great men. And Gordon Brown is a great man.

Beyond biography

The play reaches beyond biography and grapples with the eternal question of who should be king, and it is this bigger question that clearly fascinates Kevin Toolis; Who we choose to rule over us, and the qualities we expect in our leaders is a perennial question for all of us and more especially in this historic years for all Scots.

Further details

The Confessions of Gordon Brown runs from March 11 to the 15 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. It then moves to London's Ambassadors Theatre from June 3 to July 30.

The Confessions of Gordon Brown at the Ambassadors Theatre