10 January 2017

Lots of laughs with Men From The Ministry at White Bear Theatre

I had seen a few shows at the old White Bear Theatre in Kennington and was keen to get back there after their extensive refurbishment which, amongst other things, I knew had moved the theatre from the back of the pub to upstairs.

My change came with Men From The Ministry, a radio programme that I enjoyed from the days of the BBC Home Service in the late 60s and early 70s. Then it starred Deryck Guyler as One and Richard Murdoch as Two, a couple of useless civil servants in the useless Department of Administrative Affairs which must have owed some of its inspiration from Dickens' Circumlocution Office. It is still on Radio 4 Extra sometimes and I listened to an episode not that long ago.

This was going to be fun.

The big surprise was the refurbished pub. It had been very old fashioned and almost empty before but Youngs had expanded it enormously, added the usual kitchen with a pretty usual menu, and added the sort of clutter that first became popular in pubs about thirty years ago. It looked more like a refreshed Harvester than anything else and that was working as the place was busy with eaters and drinkers. I joined the drinkers with a pint of Winter Warmer and the eaters with some baked Camembert (veggie options were limited).

The upstairs theatre suffered a little from having no milling space. Old Red Lion gets around this by having the box office downstairs. Tabbard has the same configuration but has a little bit more space to play with. There was a slightly awkward five minutes where half a dozen of us waited to enter in a small space with several doors that kept opening and closing.

Another group squeezed into the theatre before me but I was still able to claim a good seat in one of the front rows. The new theatre was slightly L-shaped, as was the old one with the stage in the corner and seating on two sides. I think that were about 70 seats, slightly more than before.

The stage was arranged as a BBC Radio studio complete with the old logo and old style microphones. The cast fell into the mood with suits and bowler hats.There was an announcer and a sounds effects person too (pictured) which all added to the atmosphere.

We were presented with two episodes either side of an interval which allowed me to get another Winter Warmer. As far as I can tell, not that it matters that much, the two episodes were Watch This Space and Ban the Wotsit, both from the 14th and final series.

Like Scooby-Doo, every episode of Men From The Ministry has the same plot, they are given a new task to perform, they mess it up mightily but somehow, more luck than judgement, escape intact at the end. The humour comes from the characters and their strict adherence to petty civil service rules.

There is a reason that Men From The Ministry ran for 14 seasons, it is really funny and these performances were too. 

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