Si­mon Plant

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - SHOWS -

T last, Sir Humphrey Ap­pleby may have met his match. In the new stage ver­sion of Yes, Prime Min­is­ter, West­min­ster’s wil­i­est bu­reau­crat comes up against a ‘‘spe­cial ad­viser’’ to Prime Min­is­ter Jim Hacker who chal­lenges his in­ge­nious eva­sions and bland ob­struc­tion­ism.

Her name is Claire Sut­ton, and even though he refers to her dis­mis­sively as ‘‘Dear Lady’’, Sir Humphrey can­not deny her lethal po­lit­i­cal skills.

‘‘Claire is quite tough – ter­ri­fy­ing re­ally,’’ says ac­tor Caro­line Craig, who plays Sut­ton.

‘‘She can hold her own when it comes to po­lit­i­cal bad­i­nage be­cause she sees through the wall of words and all the games that are go­ing on. But she has an­other weapon that Sir Humphrey (Philip Quast) doesn’t have in or­der to get the PM (Mark Owen-tay­lor) on side. Which is charm.’’

Blonde and blue-eyed, Craig ra­di­ates plenty of charm. But like Sut­ton, she pos­sesses a core of steel. Which may ex­plain why TV di­rec­tors have been quick to cast her as hard-hit­ting cops – first, Tess Gal­lagher in Blue Heel­ers, then Jac­qui James in the first Un­der­belly.

‘‘Yeah, I’ve played a lot of po­lice of­fi­cers who al­most have to be tougher than the blokes,’’ she laughs.

And she ad­mits she feels ‘‘grounded and very pow­er­ful’’ as soon as she dons a po­lice uni­form.

In Yes, Prime Min­is­ter, Craig’s ‘‘uni­form’’ is a red dress . . . and her weapon of choice? A Black­berry.

‘‘Claire is all about gad­gets and con­nec­tions,’’ Craig says.

‘‘A real op­er­a­tor. There’s a sense she needs to main­tain a very steely front in these cor­ri­dors of power, but she’s not above us­ing her own sex­u­al­ity or ex­ploit­ing other women’s sex­u­al­ity in or­der to suc­ceed.’’

While Craig re­mem­bers join­ing a protest on the steps of Par­lia­ment when she was an arts stu­dent at Melbourne Univer­sity, she says she ‘‘never got in­volved in any stu­dent pol­i­tics, re­ally’’.

‘‘I was al­ways more in­ter­ested in the theatre of it . . . the ban­ners, the cos­tumes and the singing.’’

Craig’s par­ents had di­vided loy­al­ties (‘‘Dad’s very left-wing and Mum was more to the right . . .’’), but the whole fam­ily sat down to watch Yes, Min­is­ter and later Yes, Prime Min­is­ter on TV.

Craig was too young, how­ever, to be able to savour the show’s con­vo­luted word­play (scripted by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn) and has only re­cently re­vis­ited the 1980s se­ries, which starred Paul Ed­ding­ton and Nigel Hawthorne.

‘‘Now I ap­pre­ci­ate how bril­liant it is,’’ she says. ‘‘One of the joys for me is the ver­bal haz­ing, the way these char­ac­ters out-talk, outwit, al­most out-po­lite the other per­son to get what they want. The more oblique and round­about you can be, the more ven­omous it is.’’

When it comes to venom, Un­der­belly is in a league of its own. Craig has nar­rated the en­tire gang­land mini-se­ries, in ad­di­tion to play­ing De­tec­tive Con­sta­ble James, and calls it ‘‘an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity’’.

‘‘I’ve been re­ally in­spired by the char­ac­ter-driven drama of Un­der­belly. The struc­ture of the sto­ry­telling felt so new and ex­cit­ing. Com­edy should be no less thrilling,’’ she says.

plays The Arts Cen­tre Gold Coast from May 17-19.

Caro­line Craig stars as Claire Sut­ton in

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