Playing politics: my role as plotter Bernard

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  • James Knell,right, in a scene from Yes, Prime Minister (Photograph supplied)

    James Knell,right, in a scene from Yes, Prime Minister (Photograph supplied)

  • Schemer: James Knell in a scene from Yes, Prime Minister

    Schemer: James Knell in a scene from Yes, Prime Minister


The prime minister’s private secretary isn’t quite what he seems. A yes-man in public, in reality Bernard Woolley is anything but.

James Knell will take on the role in the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society’s production of Yes, Prime Minister next week.

“He’s quite strait-laced, ostensibly, but he’s scheming with Sir Humphrey Appleby in sort of trying to run the country behind the prime minister’s back,” the actor said.

“Rehearsals are going well so far. We’ve got a great cast and a great director, Nicola Flood.”

The political satire was a massive hit when it ran on British television in the 1980s and also when the series was remade in 2013. Mr Knell was a huge fan as was the late Margaret Thatcher, who was the British Prime Minister at the time of the original show.

“Debt is spiralling, unemployment is on the rise and the fragile coalition cabinet, led by Prime Minister Jim Hacker, is at breaking point,” reads the BMDS synopsis. “But salvation may exist in the form of a complex pipeline deal with the oil-rich country of Kumranistan that would entitle the government to a multi-trillion pound loan. When the Kumranistan Foreign Secretary makes a shocking request of Jim’s private secretary Bernard Woolley, moral considerations collide with the economic future of the nation. But how will Jim and his team: Bernard, cabinet secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby and special adviser Claire Sutton, reconcile the two? Political machinations, media manipulation and an appeal for divine intervention ensue.”

Will Kempe plays Jim Hacker, Robert Godfrey plays Bernard Woolley’s conspirator, Sir Humphrey and Brooke Burfitt plays Claire Sutton. The cast also includes Stephen Notman, Alan Brooks and Tracy Stewart. The show’s producer is Rebekah Nebard.

Mr Knell had visited the island as a young child but only moved here from England four months ago. He was pleasantly surprised to discover all it had to offer.

“Living in London, I thought Bermuda would be a very interesting experience and the role and the company attracted me,” the 30-year-old, who works in advisory at KPMG, said. “In the field I work in, this is a very interesting time to be in this jurisdiction. There’s an evaluation later this year by the Financial Action Task Force and there’s lots of stuff going on with the Government and various businesses that make it an exciting time.

“Also, the climate, the beach — Bermuda is an incredibly beautiful place. The people are warm and one of the things that surprised me was that there has been so much to do. There’s a great history here culturally and in terms of the arts. There seems to be an active arts scene here despite Bermuda’s small size, which I think is good.”

He had last been in a play in London about five years ago. The move to Bermuda was enough to lure him back on stage.

“I don’t have a strong background in acting but it’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing,” Mr Knell, who is originally from West Sussex, said. “I acted a bit in high school and college and when I started working I met people in my job who were part of the acting society in London. They recommended I audition for my first part, Mr Scoblowski in Daisy Pulls it Off.

“I performed it in a pub theatre in Clapham and it was great but it’s about finding the time to do it. It’s all well and good getting the part but a lot of it is about being disciplined with your time so you can learn the lines and make rehearsals alongside of your work.

“Before I came here I was looking at different ways to meet local people. I think sometimes expatriates just hang out with expatriates and I figured BMDS would be a good way of [getting to know Bermudians]. Even if you’ve not been cast in a play, they have a very active social scene and the people are nice.”

Despite Bernard Woolley being “probably the biggest role” he has ever had he does not have butterflies — yet.

“I’m slightly weird in that I don’t get that nervous in front of large audiences,” he said. “I think the cast and the director are so supportive it’s been very reassuring, however, my manager at KPMG is coming to watch so that will probably make me nervous.”

Yes, Prime Minister runs April 12-14 and April 16-21 at 8pm at Daylesford Theatre. Tickets are available on ptix.bm and from the BMDS box office one hour before performances. Telephone 292-084 for information.

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Published Apr 2, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 1, 2018 at 8:35 pm)

Playing politics: my role as plotter Bernard

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