After a snappy opening, the energy dies and laughter is replaced by frustratingly monotonous characters. Robert Daws’ Hacker is whining, screechy and unlikeable, while Michael Simkins’ appropriately patronising Humphrey is more abrasive than droll. Emily Bruni as Hacker’s advisor, Claire Stutton, initially has a strong presence, but this fades. The performances become more wooden as the evening drags on, eventually becoming so farcical that the crucial sense of realism is lost.
There are a few witty moments and some well-written sequences, especially Sir Humphrey’s verbose monologues
This updated version, including only passing reference to the coalition amongst a scattering of supposedly contemporary allusions, unfortunately feels mechanical and forced rather than spontaneous. The main subject matter – sleaze and power-hungry civil servants – is rather out-dated and although the introduction of the blunt spin-doctor Claire Sutton creates an effective foil for Sir Humphrey, their predictable relationship ultimately fails to add a new dimension.
There are a few witty moments and some well-written sequences, especially Sir Humphrey’s verbose monologues, though it tends toward being hackneyed. The limited, pedestrian material means the actors can do nothing more than hammer at the same note on which they began. The over-egged plot lacks contemporary relevance and the biting political satire of the original BBC sitcom is sorely missing. Perhaps it is time, following two West End runs and a national tour, to call it a day.
** (2 stars)