Fascinating to see this with a new cast a year after its triumphant premiere at Chichester Festival Theatre. Fascinating but disappointing.
Chichester’s thrust stage took the political skulduggery and shenanigans right into the heart of the audience; Henry Goodman commanded the stage as the consummate civil servant, a man prepared to beat back everything with a barrage of verbiage.
And David Haig was cracking as the prime minister, a wreck one minute, at the top of his game the next, a wily political operator no matter how fast events flowed against him.
By comparison - and it’s impossible not to compare - this new touring production seems both distant and lame, Simon Williams and Richard McCabe as servant and master respectively never achieving the fizz which brought it all to life so memorably in Chichester last year.
The spark simply wasn’t there, and far too often the piece seemed wordy and flat. The Chichester production just about carried off the distinctly questionable subplot. Here it just seemed distinctly questionable.
It’s difficult not to wonder whether the piece wouldn’t have been better served with Williams as the PM and McCabe as the cabinet secretary trying to control his boss at every turn.
Both are fine performers, Williams terrific in Hay Fever in Chichester a few years ago and McCabe superb in a succession of Minerva roles last year.
But somehow they don’t quite manage to light the fuse here. Sadly, in Southampton, it barely flickered.