I'm a Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister virgin; an anomalous status, of course, akin to going along to see Fake That or The Rolling Clones while wholly ignorant of the real thing.
The pitch for this 2010 TV spin-off was clear: a satire on the bumbling travails of Kim Hacker, a prime minister at sea sans paddle amid a whirlpool of troubles – climate change, the euro, a drunken home secretary – to which is piled on a lascivious politician from Central Asia, demanding three London 'call girls' as the price of his acquiescence in a hefty arms-for-cash deal. This is essentially a blowing-up and stretching-out of the original 28 minute TV episodes, the effects of inflation being, I thought, evident in the script. The sex worker supply problem, once stated and then grasped by the audience, was kicked around at length so that action drifted around in circles rather than assuming linear form. After the interval, there was an all-but-audible clanking of gears as we shifted from sharpish satire to outright farce - rushing about, shouting and an all-too-neat wrapping up of the disasters. Cutting the running time by half an hour would, I think, concentrate the thrust of the action.
The flow of one-liners was steady, some of them inspired. As Hacker and her coterie kick the King's Cross to Chequers logistics problem around, the Private Secretary chips in: 'We have a helicopter standing by this weekend. The one the Queen uses! ' - but to my ears some of the humour was mechanical. The centre of power has shifted these days, from Civil Service mandarins to even less accountable figures like Alastair Campbell and now the sinister Dominic Cummings.
This was a workmanlike production from Fiasco Theatre in the Wesley Memorial Church, whose Gothic Revival oak panelling provides a plausible Chequers atmosphere and a whiff of Messrs Gladstone and Disraeli, whose latter-day descendants grapple here with the familiar dilemma of morality versus save-our-necks expediency. The extemporized raised stage has, though, the drawback of a cavernous space immediately above the actors, their words at times half-swallowed up, especially early on. It might help were the action brought even further forward to the very edge of the stage.
Liz Bishop in the long and tricky role of Hacker, after rather an uncertain start, grew in stature as her acolytes were losing their collective heads. Paul Barrand's Sir Humphrey was smoothly accomplished in ironic detachment, and Chris Cooper gave his Private Secretary considerable integrity amid the moral equivocation. I particularly enjoyed Kelly Ann Stewart's Policy Unit Head, with skilful reaction acting and movement. Her phone call to a CIA buddy was a delight, and both here and in last year's King Charles III she gave indications of an acting future beyond the amateur ranks.
Whether this drama has legs for the future seem uncertain. Life is now imitating art. The weaselly bulldozing of norms by Boris Johnson is pushing back the frontiers of democratic acceptability, so that the shenanigans on offer here seemed a bit anodyne in comparison.