Pardon Me, Prime Minister closes out Ottawa Little Theatre’s 104th season. This British farce, though a bit dated, has a snappy comic pace (especially in the second act) and a silly premise that makes it perfect for summer community theatre.
In the Prime Minster’s office at 10 Downing Street at some point in the 1970s, Prime Minister George Venables and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Hector Cramond are preparing the new budget, which includes a steep tax hike intended to put casinos, strip clubs, nightclubs, theatres, and other decadent entertainments out of business. Meanwhile, Venables’ wife is organizing a blood drive, a sensationalist reporter is looking for a story, and the Prime Minister’s and Chancellor’s secretaries deal with their uncomfortably obvious attraction to each other. Everything gets out of hand when a young woman turns up claiming to be Venables’ illegitimate daughter. The plot is typically twisting and includes a long string of wacky misunderstandings that culminate in an extended sequence of mismatched characters constantly coming and going through the several doors in and out of Venables’ office. Not all of the plot threads seem necessary to the story – the reporter character in particular doesn’t add much to the overall narrative – and it takes a while to get them all set up, slowing down the first 20 minutes or so.
The choice of script is at first puzzling: what does a 40-year old British farce with a far-fetched premise have to offer an Ottawa audience in 2017? It works out, but perhaps not for the reason that Ottawa Little Theatre programmed this play: the overall message, that irreverence/naughtiness are more or less unavoidable and shouldn’t be overly repressed, is no less applicable today than it was then, except that the political climate has shifted in the last few years so that a government using economic policy to dictate the morality of its citizens seems far likelier – and therefore less funny so much as grimly prescient – than when Pardon Me, Prime Minister was first written.
With this perspective in mind, to watch such a government forced to abandon such policies due to the politicians’ own personal peccadilloes is immensely gratifying and (only for the moment, hopefully) escapist entertainment. Again, this might not have been what OLT had in mind when selecting this season’s productions, but this choice worked well in that regard. The gag of “woman who has lost her clothes hides in a closet in her underwear” hasn’t aged as well though (and with three characters who match that description, you will have plenty of opportunities to determine what your opinion is on the matter).
Director Josh Kemp nails the pace needed for the second act, when the various plot threads intersect at increasing speed as doors open and shut. The beginning and ending move slower, but that has more to do with the playwrights needing to establish everyone and tie up the multiple loose ends after the big climactic reveal. The cast keeps up good energy, with a strong performance from Andi Cooper as Venables, balancing gravity and exasperation, and Andrew Michael McCarville’s Chancellor is dogmatic and driven (McCarville’s Scottish accent is not quite perfect, but his command of the trilled R is admirable and he hangs on to his accent more successfully than the other performers).
As can be expected with Ottawa Little Theatre, the technical elements are strong, with Sally McIntyre’s lovely set featuring wood panelling and vintage furniture, and Barry Sim’s lighting design stealing the show right at the very beginning as Venables practices his television address in a tightly focussed spot.
Pardon Me, Prime Minister is either light-hearted farce or absurd escapism, depending on how you look at it. Decide for yourself by checking it out before July 29th.
Pardon Me, Prime Minister
Written by Edward Taylor and John Graham
Directed by Josh Kemp
Stage Managed by Jim Hogan
Assistant to the Director: Lisa Dunn
Deputy Stage Manager: Val Bogan
Set Design by Sally McIntyre
Lighting Design by Barry Sim
Costume Design by Glynis Ellens
Properties by Jeanne Gauthier
Makeup and Hair by Sarah Jane Wilgress
Starring (in alphabetical order): Sam Aitken, Andi Cooper, Lindsay Laviolette, Ellen Manchee, Andrew Michael McCarville, Sarah Olberg, Sky, Katie Torresan, Janet Uren
At Ottawa Little Theatre, July 12-29 @ 7:30pm (Sunday matinees at 2pm on July 16 and 23)
Running Time: approximately 2 hours as well as a 15-minute intermission