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The Letter of Last Resort at The Judi Dench Playhouse | Review

A brief review of a brief play. It is, as the Prime Minister (Lisa Day) observes, extremely unlikely that her ‘letter of last resort’ would ever actually be read. What the letter is for has been, I think, highly publicised enough over the years, even if its contents are kept secret, and it is one of the first tasks any incoming Prime Minister does on taking office.

The Letter of Last Resort - Credit Jane Arnold-Forster
The Letter of Last Resort – Credit Jane Arnold-Forster

At any given moment,” John (Robert Gordon Clark) tells the PM, “There is always at least one British Trident submarine on patrol somewhere in the world, its mission being to avoid detection and remain hidden. Inside each Trident submarine is a safe, and inside that safe is another safe, and inside that safe is an unopened letter.” The letters are opened in the event of a nuclear strike on the United Kingdom – there are some checks that need to be carried out first, one of which, apparently, is whether BBC Radio 4 is still broadcasting.

John is a senior civil servant in charge of ‘arrangements’, whatever that means. His advice does not come all at once (where would the theatrical flair be in that?) but he plays devil’s advocate when he needs to and is evidently well-versed in the potential consequences of each course of action. What could have been a relatively dry conversation about geopolitics and military strategy is, whatever one’s own views, an intriguing and thoughtful dialogue, particularly as this PM seems (somewhat implausibly, politicians in the real world being what they are) keen to put across – wait for it – personal integrity in her instructions.

The staging is elaborate enough to convince as the Prime Minister’s office, and the script plays explicit homage, quite rightly, to Yes, Prime Minister: the play raises a few smiles even while grappling with life and death matters. This female PM has, perhaps deliberately, a northern accent, thus avoiding (one would hope) comparisons with Margaret Thatcher or Theresa May. It’s all remarkably well-balanced, putting cogent arguments both in favour of taking retaliatory action and against. I could envisage some interesting conversations on the way home between audience members: every option has pros and cons, and there are no straightforward solutions.

A gripping and absorbing experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

It’s late on the night after the general election. The new Prime Minister is working when she is interrupted by a request – a letter needs to be written, by her alone. It can only say one of two things, but its implications could change the face of the earth forevermore…

This gripping, thought-provoking one-act drama skillfully unpacks the debate around nuclear weapons and the complex power they hold. Written by award-winning Scottish playwright David Greig.

This production is in association with PlayGC Theatre Company. It was previously performed at The West End’s Jermyn Street Theatre in 2016 to high-acclaim. Runs in our Judi Dench Playhouse Theatre. Due to social-distancing, there will be limited seating, so make sure to book your tickets fast.

Running Time: 50 minutes, no interval.

The Questors Present
The Letter of Last Resort
16 Jun – 19 Jun 21 | The Judi Dench Playhouse
http://www.questors.org.uk/

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