By Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn
Directed by Jonathan Lynn
Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre
Date: Thursday 13th May 2010
Opening night! First performance! And they did it very well. Our overall impression was that the piece is pretty good but a little uneven, and tonight’s experience should help them make the necessary adjustments.
The set made good use of the vast plains of the main stage. Representing the PM’s study at Chequers, there were doors to the left and right of centre, one being integrated into the bookcases along the right hand wall. A sofa and chair were left and centre, the PM’s desk was in front of the bookcases, and there was a shaped window seat to our right, fitting nicely in with the design of the edge of the stage, which showed the outside of the building – path, flowers, etc. Between the doors at the back was a large window, with autumnally-coloured trees seen through it. The storm effects included real wet stuff, fortunately confined to the exterior locations.
The plot concerned a possible oil deal with a fictitious -stan, which thanks to the topsy-turvy world of international finance, would mean Europe getting the dosh now, so they could afford to buy the oil later. Or something like that. Basically, it was a multi-trillion bribe to lock European states into paying a higher price for this state’s oil in the future. With the PM absolutely gagging for it (the deal, that is), the only snag seems to be a request from the -stani foreign minister for a pre-defiled schoolgirl, under our age of consent, for a spot of post-dinner ravishing. The moral, political and practical dilemmas this request poses are thoroughly explored through the second half, and include a prayer session, the aforementioned storm, an illegal immigrant working as a cook at Chequers, a live interview on the BBC, and the Royal helicopter. Nuff said.
Of course, that’s only the bare bones of the evening’s entertainment, with topical references skittering across the stage so fast I probably missed a few. And the perennial problems of being the man in charge got the usual airing as well. One of my favourite bits was when the PM has a despairing rant about all the woes that afflict him (Job had it easy), culminating in the final straw, global warming, whereupon his head sank onto the back of a chair. Mind you, there were plenty of other lines that got a great response from the audience. After the uncertainties of recent weeks, I suspect we were all ready to let off steam, and this was the perfect opportunity. This is the area that’s most likely to be updated, as events at Westminster and Downing Street unfold, while Sir Humphrey’s elaborate monologues, explaining in ‘simple’ terms the complexities of some subtle point of the art of government, will no doubt be untouched. Henry Goodman as Sir Humphrey did an excellent job delivering these speeches, and if the people behind us had been quieter I would have enjoyed them even more. Jonathan Slinger played Bernard with the right degree of innocence, classical education, and moral indignation, while Emily Joyce did her best with the part of Special Policy Advisor, but I felt her lines didn’t get as many laughs as the others. Sam Dastor did a very nice job as the -stani ambassador – from him we learned that Sir Humphrey’s nickname at Oxford was ‘Bubbles’ – and William Chubb and Tim Wallers were fine as the BBC Director General and a mock Jeremy Paxman.
Teamwork notwithstanding, the honours for tonight, by the narrowest of majorities, must go to David Haig as the PM, Jim Hacker. He covered the whole range of emotions, posturing like a strong leader one minute, and then collapsing into wimp mode the next. I especially liked his response to Sir Humphrey telling him he’s been courageous – ‘have I?’ he says, sinking onto the window seat full of worry and concern.
The issue of under-age prostitution was stronger stuff than we’re used to from this team, and I felt a bit uncomfortable for a while, but the writing focused on the responses of the various characters, and the humour of that soon got me involved again. A few people did leave during the interval, but on the whole, we’re looking forward to seeing this again in a few weeks.
© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me