‘Pardon Me, Prime Minister’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by March 18, 2017

‘Pardon Me, Prime Minister’ was co-written by Edward Taylor and John Graham. The Essex born playwright, Edward Taylor, after appearing in the 1955 Cambridge Footlights revue hoped to become an actor, but decided to become a scriptwriter instead. Over a 35-year period, this 85-year-old author has written 2,500 comedy and drama scripts for the BBC. He is best known for the radio comedy series ‘Just a Minute’ and ‘The Men from the Ministry’. The latter being specially written for his best friend, Richard ‘Dickie’ Murdoch. His comedies were even sold from Finland to South Africa.

The other co-writer, actor John Graham, in his youth played in several Arthur Miller plays, but from the late 1980s turned to TV soaps such as ‘Coronation Street’, ‘Emmerdale’ and ‘Heartbeat’. He also played DCI Peter Adams in the BBC’s series, ‘Hetty Wainthropp Investigates’. Graham-Davies occasionally still teaches creative writing and drama.

This script is NOT from the ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ stable, but it is an extremely funny, well-constructed farce that is a little aged in the dialogue.

 

The Harbour Theatre Company is presenting this first class, rib tickling two and a half hour play at the Camelot Theatre, 16 Lochee Street, Mosman Park at 7.30 pm on a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening until Saturday 18th March. There are matinées on Sunday 12th and 19th March at 2.00 pm.

 

The scene is the Prime Minister’s office in Downing Street, the year is about 2000. As soon as you see four doors on a set, you know it is going to be a great farce.

Brian Mahoney’s set is of a very high standard. The walls are Victorian arsenic green and the furniture dark oak. There is a great deal of nice pieces of furniture, including desk, carpet, plant stand and drum table – and of course the essential requirement for all farces – a chaise longue. Central patio doors open onto the garden (realistic garden artwork by Melissa Bassett). Furnishings and props supplied by Grace and Eric Hitchin. Michelle Buttery and Sue Murray supplied some ‘special’ eye-opening props.

Set building crew was Rob Tagliaferri, Phil Redding, Tina Barker, David Eccleston, and Matt Cuccovia with set painting further aided by Grace Hitchin.

Lighting design, rigging and operation was by Rob Tagliaferri. Still doing a great job with the older style of lamps. Vanessa Gudgeon’s sound quality was faultless as ever.

Thanks to the generosity of Docuprint – owned by the key actor in tonight’s show – the 8-sided, A4, full coloured programme was only $2.

 

         The self-doubting Prime Minister, George Venables (Alan Morris) is seated at his desk practising his ‘Speech to the Nation’ before the most killjoy budget ever is to be announced. George is a mere puppet in the hands of his miserable Scottish Chancellor, Hector Crammond (Tom Rees). Hector is a tight-fisted ‘Wee Free’ (a strictly religious group of Scots opposed to any normal pleasure), determined to rid the UK of bingo, smoking and drink.

       Prime Minister, George knows Hector will cause a riot, but is too gutless to stop him. Hector even has his prim and proper private secretary, Miss Frobisher (Maree Stedul) brainwashed to his arcane ways. The PM’s pedantic private secretary, Rodney Campbell (Jarrod Buttery) tries hard to please, but constantly gets things confused too easily.

       As the speech rehearsal ends, George advises his private secretary that any moment, Jane Rotherbrook (Grace Hitchin) the cheerless daughter of the country’s major newspaper publisher, is arriving to interview him. Despite warnings and subtle hints from Rodney, George has forgotten that tomorrow is the birthday of his dear, adoring wife, Sybil (Tina Barker).

      When a beautiful young woman arrives, Rodney mistakes her for the reporter. This woman is in fact Shirley Springer (Mona Afshar), an exotic dancer who has come to complain about Hector’s budget and the cripplingly high tax on night clubs; it becomes obvious that Shirley is likely to do a ‘strip sit-in’ to object. Within minutes, Shirley’s Mum, Dora (Sue Murray) arrives – and she has plenty to say to George.

     Poor Rodney now finds that there is a Private Detective (Phil Redding) demanding to see the Prime Minister.

      Will George survive the budget? Will Hector take over?

 

True to form, with slick direction and excellent timing by the experienced and talent cast, the expected disasters just miss each other – for a while.

The occasional local quip was thrown into the dialogue, much to the mirth of the audience. There was even a comment about a person being the lowest of the low, ‘such as a kilt wearing optometrist!’ I have no idea what that can mean, but fellow actor, Meredith Cook, has taken my case.

The director was Ann Speicher, one of Harbour’s ‘backbone team’ for years. No sooner had she finished directing this hilarious farce than she landed in hospital with broken bones – possible with laughing so much at the comedy. Get well soon Ann x

The cast of a quality farce should put their whole bodies into even the simplest of movements. The essential air of tension was there, coupled with sheer panic for the bullied Prime Minister. The cast subtlety employed throughout, both facial expressions and delivery of the lines – so enriching a slightly tired script. The girls knew exactly what was required; one had to be severe, another straight laced, whilst the others had to show their affections. In this play, there was a great deal of proficient, first class farce technique, a difficult genre to carry off well.

This fabulous team, boldly went where few would dare to go, raunchy but without being offensive – the chemistry was amazing.

I have seen this play a couple of times over the years, but loved every minute again.