Ottawa Little Theatre: Pardon Me, Prime Minister. Good performances out of weak material.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Pardon Me, Prime Minister, directed by Josh Kemp. Photo: Maria Vartanova

Should you think about going to see Pardon Me, Prime Minister, currently playing at Ottawa Little Theatre, be warned.

This weak and dated farce by Edward Taylor and John Graham, first performed in 1979, is not connected to the fine television comedy series Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister — except by trying to force a link through its title.

The plot — if that is not too strong a word for the creaking storyline — is transparent and the climax (again too strong a word for something that is more fizzle than sizzle) is discernible well before the end of the first scene.

In the tradition of British farce, cast members rush through assorted doors and females strip to their underwear, on at least one occasion for absolutely no reason. Sadly, the OLT production features some of the ugliest and most unflattering undies that do nothing to enhance the appearance of the three young women who must wear them. And, while considering the costuming, it might also have been a good idea to spring for three similar dresses in three different sizes, instead of making do with one, for the three actresses of different body types, who must wear them. Along the way, this would also set up an amusing replication of outfits for the curtain call.

 

To reach this point, director Josh Kemp and his cast must steer through what seems a very long 135 minutes of frenetic activity, mistaken identity and silliness.

 

All action takes place at 10 Downing Street, where Prime Minister George Venables and his determinably puritanical Chancellor of the Exchequer Hector Cramond are ready to release a budget that taxes ‘sinful’ amusements out of existence. In the nick (or, in British farce parlance, the knickers) of time, a striptease artist with a secret arrives to challenge the PM and the dance begins…

The good news about the show — yes, there is some in this worthy attempt to create a silk purse out of the groaningly weak material — is that there are some strong performances and some instances of excellent timing.

As Venables, Andi Cooper wisely starts from a low-key beginning to work into the disaster that could cost him his political career, developing some very amusing moments when he jumps up and down in frustration. By contrast, Andrew Michael McCarville, as the Chancellor, starts at such a high pitch that his only recourse to emphasize a point is to shout.

As Venables’ secretary, Rodney Campbell, Sam Aitken delivers the right tone and expression and the always reliable Janet Uren offers a pleasant characterization of Venables’ slightly ditzy wife, Sybil.

Sarah Olberg, as stripper Shirley Springer, is somewhat heavy-handed in her approach to the role, while, Ellen Manchee, as her mother, Dora, appears more at ease and aware that comedy plays best when treated seriously.

Completing the cast are Katie Torresan, as the hotshot journalist, Lindsay Laviolette, as the Chancellor’s assistant, yearning for Rodney, and Sky, in a cameo appearance as a private detective.

Painful as Pardon Me, Prime Minister is for a non-lover of farce, especially poor farce, the production resulted in an enthusiastic response from some audience members.

Pardon Me, Prime Minister continues at Ottawa Little Theatre to July 29.

Director: Josh Kemp

Set: Sally McIntyre

Lighting: Barry Sim

Sound: David Ing

Costumes: Glynis Ellens

Cast:

George Venables……………………………………Andi Cooper

Rodney Campbell…………………………………..Sam Aitken

Miss Frobisher………………………………………Lindsay Laviolette

Hector Cramond…………………………………….Andrew Michael McCarville

Sybil Venables………………………………………Janet Uren

Shirley Springer……………………………………..Sarah Olberg

Jane Rotherbrook…………………………………….Katie Torresan

Dora Springer………………………………………..Ellen Manchee

Man…………………………………………………..Sky


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