Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 3rd July, 2012
When pompous Prime Minister Randolph Bolton keels over and drops dead just days before a general election, the Home Secretary and the Minister for the Arts hit upon a plan to replace him with a look-alike until their election victory is assured.
So begins Charles Ross’s comedy thriller. The far-fetched plot only works because the characters are all objectionable. There is no time for sentiment; it’s all about the cover-up and keeping their unfeasible balloon in the air. And so the backstabbing, manipulations and machinations of the senior Cabinet are revealed. By the interval, it emerges that the PM was murdered, leading to a faster-paced second half. The intrigue and the whodunit aspects keep you interested… but that’s about all that does. You don’t give a monkey’s about this bunch of unsympathetic creatures.
Much of the humour comes from references that would have been topical when the play was new but now evoke nostalgic laughter among those old enough to remember the political climate at the time. Reagan was in the White House and so much is made of having an actor in power (the PM’s double appears to be doing a better job than the real one).
Among this nest of Machiavellian vipers, Keith Drinkel snarls and growls as the uptight Home Secretary, Belinda Carroll looks the part in her power-dressing couture but seems tongue-tied, and Chris Ellison exudes brooding menace as the efficient, shaved-gorilla-in-a-suit security boss. David Callister as the PM and his double has the most to do, establishing in the PM’s brief opening scene enough of the characterisation for us to recognise when he is impersonating himself later on. As the PM’s wife, Joanne Heywood adds cool elegance to the proceedings but the most statesmanlike performance, played with bold and casual assurance comes from Tony Adams. His Foreign Secretary is a man accustomed to power, a man who feels entitled to it and is able to wield it.
And so an unlikely premise turns into an intriguing puzzle that takes sideswipes at politicians and politicking along the way. No one is wholly right or purely honourable it turns out; it’s the electorate who are deceived and cheated the most.
Tell us something we don’t know.