The play opens late one autumn Friday afternoon at Chequers – the Prime Minister’s country residence. Most of the action takes place during the afternoon and evening of that same day, with the final scene taking us to Sunday morning and a political interview for the BBC.
During the opening scene we see Cabinet Secretary, Sir Humphrey Applebey, played admirably by Crispin Redman, discussing with Principal Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley, played with just the right amount of diffidence by Michael Matus, as to just how much the Prime Minister, Jim Hacker – played by Michael Fenton Stevens - should be allowed to know about a pending deal with Kumranistan. The deal involving oil and incorporating most of the EU countries, is close to completion, but what the Prime Minister does not know is that it will involve Britain adopting the Euro as its currency
Sir Humphrey and Bernard’s plans to hide the information from the Prime Minister – at the bottom of the 5th of the Prime Minister’s red boxes – “he’ll never look in there” – is thwarted by the PM’s Special Policy Advisor, Claire Sutton, very efficiently played by Indra Ove. She immediately picks out the correct box and reaching for the bottom file find the incriminating documents.
The play continues with all sorts of wheeling and dealing and arguments with some immense speeches – most of which are brilliantly proclaimed by Sir Humphrey. Sometimes the PM seems to be winning the battle – sometimes Sir Humphrey. Add a dramatic new problem, when the Kumranistan Foreign Minister demands that three “ladies of the night” be brought to Chequers to entertain him! Attempts are made to solve the problem without bringing the PM and government into disrepute, and there are some extremely funny scenes including “The Voice of God” manifesting itself in a mighty thunderstorm. How does it end? Well you’ll need to go and see it for yourself to find that out!
Jonathan Lynn also directs, and has done a fantastic job pulling all the strands of the play together. What could have been a fairly wordy and static play, with lively direction keeps the audience on their toes the whole time.
The set, designed by Simon Higlett is excellent, conveying the old world charm and opulence of Chequers. As well as some lovely oak paneling, there is a beautiful floor to ceiling window through which we can see the light gradually fading as the evening progresses, and the beautiful autumn colours of the trees – very realistic. The lighting designed by Tim Mitchell adds an extra quality and ambience to the set.
All in all this is a thoroughly good evening’s entertainment which leaves you wondering – gosh is this really what happens in Government circles? I wouldn’t like to answer that one!