|Date||28th April 2022|
|Society||Chelmsford Theatre Workshop|
|Venue||The Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford|
|Type of Production||Play|
|Director||Catherine Kenton and Jenny Ormrod|
Author: Decia Ranger
We received a warm welcome on arrival before taking our seats in the lovely intimate auditorium, ready for curtain up. The strains of the familiar theme music immediately took me back to the 1980’s and the television programme of the same name, as well as its predecessor “Yes, Minister”, both of which became regular viewing in so many households. Not all successful TV series make the transition from small screen to stage, but this one certainly has.
The year is 2010; the UK is in crisis and Prime Minister Jim Hacker is at breaking point trying to hold together a fragile coalition cabinet. Could a pipe-line deal with an oil-rich country, entitling the government to a multi-trillion pound loan, be the answer? Possibly, until a request is made of Private Secretary Bernard Woolley which puts moral and economic issues on a collision course.
The action takes place over a weekend and the set is that of the Prime Minister’s study at Chequers. This was very well designed down to the last details. Chandeliers and matching wall lights, double doors leading into a corridor, a well-dressed window, chunky ‘leather’ furniture and other well chosen props all adding to the authenticity. Not forgetting a pile of red dispatch boxes.
Of the main characters Kevin Stemp was superb as Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby. Never one to answer a question with a straight “yes” or “no”, he launches into what appear to be never ending explanations and procrastinations, leaving the PM in a state of utter confusion, while the audience, almost overwhelmed at such masterly deliveries, bursts into spontaneous applause.
Another piece of excellent casting saw Chris Hudson as Prime Minister Jim Hacker, a man at the end of his tether and finding it almost impossible to hide his frustrations. He even resorts to hiding under his desk as well as trying divine intervention. Never far from his side is Special Advisor Claire Sutton, skillfully played by Sarah Bell. Always cool and calm, coming up with solutions and dispensing endless drinks from a globe drinks cabinet. Although this fitted in well with the set, I did wonder whether it was necessary to open and close it every time a drink was served, which seemed to be every few minutes.
Private Secretary Bernard Woolley was well played by Mark Sutton. Loyal to the PM but finding himself having to agree with Sir Humphrey in an effort to keep the peace, he is a man with divided loyalties and at times can come across as almost child-like. This of course is intentional and although his dialogue may be scant compared to that of his superiors, what he doesn’t express verbally he certainly makes up for in mannerisms and facial expressions, enabling the audience to warm to the character.
There were good supporting roles from Rebecca Segarth as the Kumranistan Ambassador and Keith Newman as BBC Executive Jeremy Burnham. The television screen mounted high on the proscenium and showing the PM in a very realistic interview on a Sunday morning political programme, worked well without necessitating a change of set.
This was a very well directed production with the three main characters really doing justice to their small screen counterparts. Congratulations to all involved and thank you for inviting me.