Writers: Antony Jay &Jonathan Lynn
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Reviewer: James Higgins
Antony Jay &Jonathan Lynn’s Whitehall farce about a rather clueless Prime Minister is on tour again after a successful West End theatre revamp of the well loved 1980’s TV comedy series that came to an end some 29 years ago.
The setting this time is at Chequers, the Prime Ministers country retreat where fresh air and quiet brings respite from London’s busy traffic and constant din.What a cosy room in Oxfordshire doesn’t bring is a place to hide from the day to day problems of being the British premier and the power struggles of the Westminster corridors.Prime Minister Jim Hacker (Michael Fenton Stevens) is staring into the abyss, the economy is only just scraping along, his cabinet is sniping for him and he seems unable to influence the latest European leadership conference in any significant way.There is just one small glimmer of hope on the horizon in the form of promised 10 trillion dollar loan from oil soaked Kumranistan should he be able to curry favour with their foreign minister and get a massive pipeline deal agreed.
As befitting of this modern political farce there is spanner in the works and an ethical dilemma for the embattled PM. Kumranistan’s foreign minister has a sordid request involving the procurement of various young ladies.As the various issues play out we notice that cabinet secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Crispin Redman) is the one pulling most of the strings while Hacker thinks he still runs the country, despite appearing to be in political decline.
Comic touches of naivety and troubled moralising come from Sir Humprey’s sidekick Bernard Wolley, the principal private secretary (Michael Matus) who cannot hide his honest traits. There is some obvious modern updating with the ‘global warming conspiracy’ much mocked by Sir Humphrey (and worrying cheered my some Surrey audience members missing the delicious irony!) and references to Murdoch’s phone hacking. Some things don’t need adjustment for the current climate as the they all run scared of the Daily Mail’s populist right wing agenda and the BBC are desperately reigned in via a meeting with it’s DG as they attempt to impartially and critically assessment the Government’s failings.
The set (Simon Higlett) serves us well throughout as a static backdrop and to particularly excellent effect as a thunderstorm strikes (complete with rain lashed windows and lightning) after a desperate prayer from Hacker.
The content isn’t as savage as The Thick of It and the power of the civil servants strings may have been diminished first by Thatcher then by Blair but is still very much a political play at heart.And the show does entertain with some genuine laugh out loud moments but some of the references to the original seem either out of date or are lost on some of the audience, that said the cast is good with particularly convincing performances and chemistry from Crispin Redman and Michael Fenton Stevens.
You wouldn’t bet on these chaps to get us out of the current Eton mess we find ourselves in but then again they were always going to be second best behind the legends that were and are Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds.