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Play For Today

After-Dinner Joke, The

Caryl Churchill’s study of the complexities of charity work and the contradictions in charitable acts, performed in a style more like late period, Terry Jones-helmed Monty Python than your standard Play for Today template. Paula Wilcox plays Selby, a secretary at Richard Vernon’s company who moves into the charity division as she wants to “do good.” She ends up running the charity arm of the company with the affable-but-clueless Vernon and the no-nonsense, businesslike Clive Merrison, trying to devise publicity campaigns which are simultaneously hard-hitting and inoffensive, instigating various charitable projects which are scuppered by local and international politics, and eventually travelling to a hurricane-stricken country and ending up being captured by a guerrilla army.

Interspersed are loads of little quickfire scenes – local politicians are targets for a charity pie-fling, and argue about who was the most popular target; a thief commits various misdeeds and is angry when Selby won’t accept the money; a sheik buys M&S; a snake-obsessed mayor argues about politics; a pop star mouths hypocritical platitudes, and tons more – over sixty scenes in total. It’s good stuff too, from slapstick and silent film parodies to spoof ads, broadcasts and running jokes. There’s even a catchphrase – “Isn’t that a bit political?” Best of all, though, are the main scenes between Wilcox, Vernon and Merrison, with the three talking themselves round in circles, Yes Minister-style. Ironically, as one of the main themes is the futility of hand-out charity in the Third World, this comic-polemic sketch style was later purloined for sketches in Comic Relief Nights.

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