‘Still needs whipping into shape’
With a remake of the classic Yes Prime Minister shortly on our screens, this may be the perfect time to bring political comedy Whipping It Up to Oxford. It falls into the same vein of political comedy, all backroom deals, complex plots and naked cynicism. This is the kind of play that must be carried by its cast; when the audience have nothing to hold their attention but actors and office furniture, the standard has to be consistent and strong.
Unfortunately, the cast of Whipping It Up don’t seem to be quite there yet. Their performances are, granted, competent, and there are even a few gems amongst them. Josh Dolphin puts in a solid performance as a deputy whip, although doesn’t quite gel with his main partner in the previewed scenes. Many of the roles are filled with simple caricatures that don’t do the script justice – the senior Tories hammed up and blustery, the junior ones theatrically nervous, without either ever being believable.
That, of course, could simply be a case of more rehearsal. What is more worrying is a distinct lack of energy across the cast. British political comedy runs the gamut from the sedentary Yes Minister of the eighties to the frenetic The Thick of It of the noughties, and this production falls firmly in the former’s camp. The general pace and staging are far too sedate to expect any laughs from some the genuinely funny lines; actors are always seated, the conversation slow and steady, with no emotion, flair or dynamism thrown in.
The actresses of the piece, however, offer some respite from the rather staid male performances. Their scenes genuinely command attention – Siwan Clark brings a real feeling of suspense into her scene with Dolphin, while Emily Troup’s energy makes her scenes a pleasure to watch. However, even these scenes seem somewhat marred by the directors somewhat inexplicable choice to lay on the sexual tension with a trowel, to the point you wonder if there’s something else going on you don’t know about it.
This play still has a chance to get better: it is mediocre rather than bad, and many of its weaknesses will improve in time for its second week debut. One can only hope the better members of the cast will left their colleagues up, to help bring out the humour in what is a genuinely very funny play.