By Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn
Directed by Jonathan Lynn and Tim Hoare
Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre
Date: Tuesday 31st January 2012
Nice to see this one again. Although it’s a touring production they’re getting a couple of weeks in Chichester, where the play premiered last year, before heading off round the country. We saw it twice last year, and really enjoyed it – how would this version fare?
The set was almost identical to last year’s; the only change I noticed was the removal of the trailing greenery around the edge of the stage – a practical necessity for a touring production. The post-show chat confirmed that the script had been revised, and it certainly seemed tighter than last year although I couldn’t name any specific changes. It did seem to flow better, though whether that was the changes or our familiarity I can’t say.
The performances were very good for so early in the run. Graham Seed was wonderfully scatty as the Prime Minister, and although he seemed to stumble over his lines occasionally, he could get away with it given this characterisation. Michael Simkins, whom we remember fondly from A Small Family Business many years ago at the National, was very good as Sir Humphrey, and both of his set speeches were warmly applauded. His gravitas combined with his comic timing were a perfect foil for the PM.
Clive Woodward gave us another good performance as Bernard Woolley, and was suitably naïve as well as erudite; Sir Humphrey has a lot of exposition in the early stages, and Bernard is his excuse for all of that. Polly Maberly was good as the SPAD, Claire, and Sam Dastor reprised his role as the Kumranistan ambassador very entertainingly. Tim Wallers, the ersatz Paxman, was strongly reminiscent of the man himself, and Tony Boncza was fine as the Director General of the BBC (but was this part trimmed since last year?).
The post-show was unusually low-key tonight and we had to be quick as the stage crew needed to strike the set for a concert tomorrow. The three leads and Tim Hoare, the associate director, came and chatted with us for a while. They felt the history of the TV version was largely irrelevant as they had to find their own ways to play the parts, but the TV characters hovered in the background providing some guidelines; as Michael Simkins put it, he wouldn’t get away with playing Sir Humphrey as Arthur Mullard. They found the Chichester stage demanding, as usual, and not entirely suited to farce, although you do get a good connection with the audience compared to a pros arch. The problems with hearing the dialogue were mentioned, and the actors agreed this was an issue in this sort of space; even though Chichester uses a subtle form of sound enhancement, it’s hard to get a balance that will work for everyone.
They were asked if it was distracting having a sign language interpreter working beside them for the signed performances. Not after the first minute or so, they said, although there was the danger of becoming too interested in what was being signed and forgetting what you were meant to do. They start blocking for the pros arch stages tomorrow, and from the sound of it they’re all looking forward to the tour. Despite our small numbers, we were very appreciative, and went away happy with our evening. This is an enjoyable revival, and I hope they have a great time on tour.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me