Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Voting with their foibles

pm, chancellor and Roney

Chancellor Hector Crammond (Richard Woodward), PM George Venables (Jon Richardson) and PPS Rodney Campbell (Al McCaughey)

Pardon me, Prime Minister

Hall Green Little Theatre


COMEDIES about politicians is the theatrical equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Indeed, such is their standing in the world outside Westminster, the best lines of the night in terms of audience reaction were more hoots of derision than laughter

Such as when the Prime Minister, George Venables says, with a commendably straight face, “I give you my word as a politician!” or when Dora – hotel receptionist, Brighton conference, night of horizontal campaigning. . . remember minister? - tells the PM: “You would not be in politics if you could hold down a proper job!”

So a farce where politicians and politics are the butt of all the jokes with virtually every twist and turn leaving them squirming and desperately tap-dancing to regain their footing on their career, means you are on a winner even before the curtain goes up.

And when the curtain does indeed rise it reveals a glorious set designed by Edward James Stokes, a sumptuous, huge, oak panelled Prime Ministerial office in No 10 filling the entire stage – and emphasising that this really is farce by a traditional helping of four doors with its equally traditional promise of scantily dressed ladies, four of them in fact, including one topless in two volumes, so to speak.

It also reveals Hall Green regular Jon Richardson as the Prime Minister sat Presidentially at his desk, Union flag behind him, rehearsing a load of statesmanlike cobblers for a weekly PM TV spot he is proposing.

He has been swept to power as a purity party to rid the nation of debauchery and that is where his problems start. His chancellor of the exchequer is Hector Crammond MP, played by another regular, Richard Woodward. He is a dour, humourless Scot, who believes in fiscal control, austerity and moderation in all things, and he also covets the Prime Minister’s job and has backing in the party . . .

It’s almost like a documentary except Edward Taylor and John Graham’s play dates from 1976 heralding the dawn of Thatcherism, long before the Blair and Brown era.

WoPM and Sybilodward's wonderfully self-righteous Crammond wants to ban gambling, booze, smoking, pornography, strip clubs, sex in all its public forms and any hint of nudity on stage by taxing them out of existence – the latter being an unfortunate choice given the amount of flesh about to be exposed as the evening progresses.

Prime Minister George Venables pleads with his wife Sybil (Stephanie Harris) to take the red dress off . . don't ask!

In a splendid performance Richardson’s rather indecisive PM wants to keep the party faithful happy but at the same time doesn’t want to lose the electorate by taxing every bit of fun and enjoyment out of their lives, so is juggling both balls furiously to tone down the Draconian budget Hector intends to present the next day – his juggling being helped by medicinal waters of life from the drinks cabinet behind Mr Gladstone’s portrait.

Enter Al McCaughey, on his Hall Green debut, as Rodney Campbell, the PPS and the PM’s Mr Fixit and gofer, a foundling, secretly searching for his parents, who tries to guide his boss in the right direction.

While from No 11 we have Miss Frobisher, straight laced, or so we thought, secretary to the dour, zealot of a chancellor. Gemma McCaffrey has a wonderful transformation, Hollywood style - all it needed was romantic music and soft focus - as she lets her hair fall loose and removes her glasses changing from severe to sexy in an instant as we discover her secret passion..

Then there is Sybil, played with wonderful scattyness, by Stephanie Harris, who seems to live in a different No 10 to everyone else and is arranging for everyone to have their blood group checked and become blood donors.

Which brings us to Shirley Springer, played with a lovely matter of factness, by Jennie Almond  who is at first mistaken for a reporter but then is revealed as the daughter of Dora Springer, played as a long lost lover turned middle aged mum by Amanda Grant.

Before the revelation we discover the PM has a penchant for pursuing young ladies - another no no, along with his whisky and cigars in the puritanical party, and one that is about to come back and bite him in the ballots.

Dora, of course, is the aforementioned receptionist who joined the celebrations on the last night of conference the Hotel Metropole in Brighton some 22 years ago – by coincidence, that same age as Shirley, give or take nine months or so.

Then we have Rachel Louise Pickard as up market reporter Jane Rotherbrook, daughter of publishing magnate Lord Rotherbrook (a hefty combination of Press barons) who finds herself, dressless, in the midst of scandal after scandal.

Not that she is alone in the dressless department with only Dora managing to keep her clothes on.

 Throw in a red dress which half the cast seem to wear at some point or another, a floating bra, and startling revelations of that night in Brighton so long ago, not to mention damning evidence from blood groups, and it’s the old, old story of public figures and skeletons in cupboards – and let’s not forget orphan Rodders and his search for his parents.

It is all glorious fun and Tony O’Hagan on his directing debut has done a fine job in keeping up a cracking pace and adding some nice touches.

He is helped by a superb cast. Farce, and indeed comedy, depends upon timing. The dialogue was snappy and pauses well measured and with four doors and endless ins and outs everything needed to be spot on. Mistime an entrance and either it is a disaster for the next scene in the script or a shuddering halt in the pace and the nine strong cast didn’t put a foot wrong all night.

You perhaps did not need to be a genius to work out a plot involving a puritanical budget, a love child and a list of everyone's blood group - and don't forget Rodders,  but what the heck, its fast, funny and simply glorious entertainment. To 23-05-15

Roger Clarke


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