Reconciliation between generations? Alex Tabrizi with permission for Varsity

Set in the familiar world of Oxford tutorials, college masters and porters, I’m Sorry Prime Minister I Can’t Quite Remember promised a comic take on power and loss. The play’s small world of domesticity was reminiscent of an afternoon spent with my grandparents: there was something distinctly charming about the friendship and good-natured bickering of these elderly men, always with a cup of tea on the go.

“The play’s small world of domesticity was reminiscent of an afternoon spent with my grandparents”

As a result, I was surprised to find that this show at its core was a reasonably empathetic and relatively balanced engagement in the political correctness debate. I found myself admittedly reluctant to laugh when I realised this. Were the audience laughing at the outdatedness of the ex-Prime Minister’s opinions? Or, I anticipated, were we being asked to laugh at the oversensitivity of the 'woke' generation?

The answer, I concluded, was both. The play’s strength came from its portrayal of a generational gap between ex-PM Jim Hacker (Christopher Bianchi) and his care worker Sophie (Michaela Bennison). Bianchi’s stellar performance of the doddery and opinionated ageing college master had the audience in fits of laughter. What interested me, though, was that even though a lot of the comedy was at Jim’s expense as an out-of-touch old white man, the character retained his endearing nature. Jonathan Lynn’s writing did not ask its audience to side with Jim’s (often blatant) racist imperialist and misogynistic views, but it did encourage a consideration for someone being a product of their generation.

“It did encourage a consideration for someone being a product of their generation”

The issue with this, however, came in the writing of Sophie. The well roundedness offered to Jim wasn’t afforded as consistently to Sophie, so the spokesperson of young people teetered into the contrived. Despite her clear characterisation as headstrong, compassionate and forgiving, the caricature of this young, black lesbian began to feel forced. While the audience were for the most part laughing at Jim, there was a certain inevitability that the comedy arose from Sophie’s discomfort. The standout performance was of the rambling and forgetful Sir Humphrey Appleby (Clive Francis) with brilliant comic timing.

The first act’s careful balancing of dated jokes with sympathy for a pair of isolated and lonely old men was unfortunately lost in the second act. I was disappointed that in its need to portray today’s ‘linguistic minefield’ the play became preoccupied with mentioning as many social issues as it could manage in what felt like a box ticking exercise. In particular, the segment on sexting fell flat and kickstarted a shift into a more preachy tone; in the show’s effort to mention so many issues it ultimately trivialised everything.


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Admittedly, I suppose that as a member of Gen Z I was not the target audience for this production. But I couldn’t help but feel that this piling of ‘free speech’ related issues undermined the sense of effort towards balance and mutual understanding. While the message remained that times have changed and the audience were happily on board with that fact (and were, truly, in fits of hysterics), I felt let down by its preachiness towards the end. Either it was, as I suspect, preaching to the converted, or in a production about connections – between government and people, between generations, between friends – it became so on-the-nose that I fear it will have alienated just the people it was trying to reach.

I'm Sorry Prime Minister I Can't Quite Remember is showing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from 21-25th November at 7:30pm.