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Yes, Prime Minister: The Mayflower
What first attracted you to the role?
“I read the script and just found myself chuckling all the way through.
The characters are both absolute rogues, thinking they are top banana and each playing the system as best they can. I then went to see it in the West End and thought it was a great show. It’s so topical.
The play talks about control orders and only recently it was on the news that they’re putting innocent people under control orders. So life is imitating art in a play which was written before the last election. The script is great and all these storylines are relevant and come around again.”
Will fans of the TV show find it very similar?
“I was a fan as well and they will find it the same but with the characters played by different actors at a different time. Back when the sketches were on TV, we didn’t have mobile phones or the Internet, it was before the Iraq War and the oil crisis. Just like the TV show, there’s many strands to the story and lots of topical references.”
If you were in the Cabinet, what laws would you have changed?
“I don’t want to get too heavy, but I really would like to see the difference between the rich and the poor somehow reduced. It seems to me that it continues to widen.
Like everyone I wish the bankers would make a few sacrifices and the minimum wage would go up. I think I’d like to be in charge of the arts, just for once I’d like to have someone who really loves the theatre in charge. VAT would be taken off of theatre seats.
Politicians and even the Royals really don’t use the theatre all that much and they won’t have observed what a big part of a town a theatre can be. Towns that normally die at 5.30pm come back to life. People come in from the country and they park, eat, drink, have their hair done. Then they go and share laughter and tears in a dark room with lots of strangers. I think that’s what I’d want from Sir Humphrey.”
What’s really getting your goat politically?
“That’s a tricky question. I guess it would be politicians themselves who are meant to serve the people. That seems to be their objective until they are elected and sense the power and get into a very different mindset. Having been part of a political party’s election campaign way back, I just expect more.”
Are there any roles you still covet?
“Actors around this time normally want to play King Lear, but I love doing new work. If Alan Ayckbourn wrote a new play, a part in that would be a thrill. But more than anything, I like spending time with my grandchildren.
I like acting, but I don’t always like travelling around so much. This tour is 20 weeks at different theatres and that’s quite a lot of different beds to get used to. Stage tours do tend to be quite long, so I’m looking forward to doing some more writing at my own desk. I’m trying to write on the road, but I’m used to my things around me.”
How do you look back on your career so far?
“It’s been wonderful in ways, but I haven’t had the career I planned to have either. I wanted to be a character actor and play a real variety of characters. I suppose I have been typecast, which has sometimes been a frustration. I wish mine had been as varied as (Yes, Prime Minister co-star) Richard McCabe’s career, but I’m not that kind of actor. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t wear a suit for a role.”
Yes, Prime Minister runs from Tuesday to Saturday. For tickets, call 023 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk