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What's On, Culture, Theatre

Political Din and the Hacker Within

Yes, Prime Minister On Stage

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Sam Bennett
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From the writers of the original television series Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister – following the political tests of the Right Honourable Jim Hacker – comes the equally sharply satirical stage version starring Liz Mente-Bishop as the PM, Kim Hacker. From the farm she lives on in Watlington, she talks bumbling Boris, the cost of the arts, and trying to get time with Theresa May.

With Yes, Prime Minister, you say you’re bringing back a time when politics was entertaining. Are you not entertained by our real-life politics at the moment?

I’m not sure ‘entertained’ would be the word. We seem to be in a situation that essentially we’ve chosen, but now we’re stuck in limbo. We haven’t gone any further forward and nobody seems to be making stuff happen, they all just talk about making stuff happen, so it’s more frustrating than entertaining. That was also a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment relating to the pure entertainment value of the television series. Every time you mention this play to someone, they just laugh and go ‘oh my God, yeah, Yes, Minister was great – that sounds fun.’ I wouldn’t call politics fun, whereas doing this play most definitely is.

You’re playing the PM, have you used any actual prime ministers to shape your portrayal?

I did write to Theresa May and ask if she had a free five minutes to chat to me. I got a letter from her private secretary saying thank you very much for getting in touch but unfortunately she wouldn’t be able to assist me – hardly surprising. So I don’t know that I’m actually going to base Hacker on any real PM. Other than Boris’ bumbling, I’m not really sure anyone’s been quite like him – I need to find Hacker within me.

The last time you played a prime minister was September 2018, in King Charles III with the Oxford Theatre Guild – this is a rather different kind of gig, isn’t it?

Completely. King Charles was very much about the PM’s relationship with the royals so hardly covered politics at all. It was a lot to do with how the government and the royal family work together and ultimately who actually makes final decisions – I did a lot of research on the connection between government and the royal family. The preparation for this is going to be different.

Have you been watching the television series as research?

I’ve tried not to because from an acting point of view that can be quite dangerous – you can end up subconsciously trying to imitate someone. I’ve deliberately stayed away so haven’t seen it for a very long time.

There is a brilliant episode about cuts to the arts – do you worry about your craft in terms of funding?

I think it’s really sad. It’s so difficult to put a production on because it costs so much and most of us haven’t got that kind of money. Just to hire a venue for a week is thousands – surely there’s got to be a better way for us to entertain. I think we miss out on a lot of talented people because they simply cannot afford to show the world what they’re capable of.

Theatre makers must have to really love doing it to want to continue.

That’s it. When I first trained, you imagine you’re going to be on TV and what-have-you. The reality is hundreds of thousands of other actors are trying to do the same thing. I went through a period of feeling disappointed, but I’ve come out the other side. I love acting. If I don’t end up on the big screen, I don’t end up on the big screen. I just want to perform.

Yes, Prime Minister is at Wesley Memorial Church, Oxford 23-28 September.

Photography © Simon Vail

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