YES PRIME MINISTER
by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn.
Tour to 2 July 2011.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Alan Geary 21 March at Theatre Royal Nottingham.
Dated premise – but it still entertains.
The main problem with this adaptation from the classic TV sitcom – same writers – is that it’s dated. Top politicians and civil servants are vain, incompetent and corruptible – where’s the story? But it entertains.
The cast don’t impersonate the well-remembered TV actors: instead they deliver good performances in their own right.
Richard McCabe succeeds with Prime Minister Jim Hacker’s child-like low cunning. We can see his limited mind ticking over whenever he tries to think. He uses a cushion as comforter and sucks his thumb.
Senior civil servant Sir Humphrey, played by Simon Williams, has a much smaller role than one might have expected. He seems less urbane, less bright than the original, and more crudely and overtly self-serving. In dramatic terms he gives a lot of ground to Special Policy Advisor Claire Sutton (Charlotte Lucas).
Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolly (Chris Larkin) slightly over-hangs his belt in a Ken Clarke sort of way – all the characters offer more than faint physical reminders of real-life figures. BBC supremo (Jonathan Coote), with his open-necked casual shirt, braces, longish mane and comfortable salary, is your archetypal public sector arts chief. And there’s the self-important TV interviewer, Simon Chester (Michael Fenton Stevens).
It all rings horribly true. One of the best bits is the spinning scene with Bernard cribbing from a red-leather-bound list of prepared answers to field hostile questions over the phone. There’s a cook at Chequers – the whole action’s set in the wood-panelled library there – with shaky immigration status, and there’s a diplomatic wooing problem with a dodgy but oil-rich central Asian republic.
Some very good points made via the Kumranistani Ambassador (Kevork Malikyan) about international morality and double standards manage to be congruent with the comedic intent of the evening. But the prayer scene and the overt ends-justifying-the-means argument sit awkwardly.
In what is an extended sitcom, set-piece entrances in doorways, pauses for applause etc are often used. But the play is closely and realistically observed. It shows, for instance, British politicians as the last redoubt of the Brylcreem and side-parting look, which they are.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Simon Williams.
Bernard Woolley: Chris Larkin.
Jim Hacker: Richard McCabe.
Claire Sutton: Charlotte Lucas.
The Kumranistan Ambassador: Kevork Malikyan.
Jeremy Burnham: Jonathan Coote.
Simon Chester: Michael Fenton Stevens.
BBC Cameramen: Michael Chadwick, Mark Extance.
Floor Manager: Sarah Baxendale.
Director: Jonathan Lynn.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.