In the vast folds of popular theatre, there is little doubt there will always be a place for that well-loved and timeless genre: the farce. With affairs and arguments, slapstick and silliness (and at least one “More tea, vicar?” moment), the traditional British farce has stood the test of time and perpetuates in most regional theatres as a triumph of a very British and only slightly bawdy look at the mayhem misunderstanding can bring.
The Theatre Royal Windsor’s repertory season opens with such a farce: Pardon Me, Prime Minister delivers that classic style of comedy with a heavy dose of raised eyebrows and suggestive innuendo. The production is a fun and frivolous poke at the world of politics, led by gangly Prime Minister George Venables (played by Jonathan Ray) and his puritanical chancellor, Hector Cramond (played by James Pellow), on the eve of the revealing the budget to the nation. With a vision to stamp-out immorality and depravity, Venables intends to destroy debauchery, to tax entertainment and crush cheap, sinful Bingo halls into oblivion. Enter exotic dancer Shirley Stringer (played by Sarah Kempton), whose shocking ties to Downing Street force even the PM into dutiful submission. Protesting against the party’s policy line, Shirley’s presence wreaks havoc at Number 10, fast unravelling the very future of the nation, along with a few undergarments or two.
Repertory theatre is fast disappearing both on the London and regional stages – it is a traditional, well-loved style that the Theatre Royal Windsor has embraced, with a six-week run of three separate productions spanning a range of genres and tastes. Repertory theatre fosters an intimacy rare in the impersonal and at times generic productions that tour the regional stages over summer. Pardon Me, Prime Minister introduces a season of a bygone theatre. It’s now unusual for the actors to invite the audience to the bar and rush off stage to shake hands with you in the foyer, something which the actors of this production were only too happy to do. Obviously there’s little scope for something new in the tried and tested style of traditional farce, but if you don’t come expecting experimentation, you won’t be disappointed.
That said, the traditional could always benefit with a twist of the contemporary – in political comedy there is nothing so sharp as relevant commentary on current affairs and it is here that Pardon Me, Prime Minister falls just short. Set in the present day, the costumes invoke a Downing Street of the 1950s, where the woollen waistcoats, brandy decanters and pipe smoking feels alien in an apparently modern setting.
Filled to the brim with action and energy Pardon Me, Prime Minister is most certainly funny. Niceties and normality give way to nudity and naughtiness, and when the twisting plot reaches its unforeseen ending, the play also becomes – as you might expect – fantastically farcical.
Pardon Me Prime Minister is playing at the Theatre Royal Windsor until 30 May. For tickets and more information, see the Theatre Royal Windsor website.