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Yes, Prime Minister

Date

30th November 2017

Society

Ampthill & Flitwick Dramatic Society

Venue

Stewartby Village Hall

Type of Production

Play

Director

Helen Morris

Report

Author: Richard Fitt

Normally the problem with taking on a well known and well-loved TV serial (albeit the stage play spin-off in this case) is that the audience are expecting to see the cast mimicking the actors playing the characters. AFDS decided at the casting stage to settle that problem once and for all by casting both the two main leads as female. So instead of Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey we had Jane Hacker and Dame Helena Appleby.  Very up to date, certainly opportune and very neat!

The set by Kelvin Horton was of the Prime Minister’s study at Chequers consisting of a rear set of flats with a painted bookcase, a stain glass window and a rear exit stage left. The side set being just played to blacks.  This is a surprisingly small stage for such a large village hall, so furnishings were wisely restricted to a sofa, a high quality and thus very appropriate prime ministerial desk and chair plus a coffee table. In the main it worked well but it did lack a real window, which is referred to in at least one scene and which left the actors not quite knowing where to look.

The lighting by Richard Moynham lit the stage well with appropriate washes and sound by Haydn Moore was in most instances spot on, with just one amusing moment of a telephone that continued ringing after being picked up, very well and humorously covered by the actor concerned, Scott Younger. And good to see that their TV remote is as temperamental as mine!

This was Helen Morris’ directorial debut and in the main what a good job she did. The action was well plotted and certainly kept the audience’s attention in what is a very wordy piece with very little available ‘business’ to compliment the script. Once or twice this tiny stage did its worst and actors entirely blocked out or upstaged each other often because they walked across the stage just to add variety to the static scenes. Why actors feel they have to wander aimlessly is one of those perennial problems all directors face, but the rule is guys, if you don’t have a reason, then don’t!

The two leading ladies, were excellent and certainly sparked off each other very well indeed. Deborah Healy as Prime Minister Jane Hacker was ideal, slightly awkward in manner and just enough in control of things, but with plenty of skids under her ready to destabilise her every move (remind you of anybody?). Partly due of course to Antony Jay’s and Jonathan Lynn’s timeless script her portrayal was so spot on for the politics being played out today. Whether intentional or accidental her casting was either a stroke of genius or a happy chance! Brilliant, loved it!  

As expected there were some wonderful long monologues by Samantha Golton as Dame Helena Appleby, beautifully delivered without an ounce of hesitation, every one of which brought applause from the audience. Her facial expressions portrayed devious plotting and manoeuvring to perfection. Would you trust a speech this woman gave? With her in charge any misgivings about having a female ‘Sir Humphrey’ were quickly dispelled.

Scott Younger as the anxious Bernard Woolley, stuck in the middle trying to steer his PM whilst dealing with the manipulations of Dame Helena, played subtlety with a straight bat very well indeed. Wonderful comic cleaning by Bernard after the champagne overflowed – I’m not sure his mother would approve using a cushion as a mop!

Tracy Callan as Special Policy adviser Claire Sutton fully aware of Dame Helena’s underhand tactics has few of the laugh lines but provided the counter arguments to Dame Helena with style and confidence.

Perfect accent by David R Morgan as The Kumtanistan Ambassaror. thick enough to identify a Middle Eastern country whilst still being able to hear and understand what he was saying. And the striped Arabic thawb was very striking!

Aldo Saralli as BBC Director General Jeremy Burnham takes a dressing down from the PM with suitable indignity whilst Alistair Kelly as BBC Presenter Simon Chester is completely out manoeuvred in the PM interview, which he demonstrates with facial expressions of gobsmacked annoyance and frustration! Good cameos from both of these actors.

Sarah Vanstone Howe  was perfectly unobtrusive as a BBC Camera operator – so unobtrusive it would have been easy to miss her – probably the best compliment you could give a camera operator I imagine.

Overall, this is a very hard piece to do and although I think it could have done with a little extra pace at times, Helen Morris and her cast did a pretty good job and certainly provided us with a thoroughly enjoyable and, because of the choice of cast a slightly different evening’s entertainment. The audience certainly appeared to be enjoying it.

Thank you AFDS for your excellent hospitality and the VIP table. Always a pleasure to visit.