YES, PRIME MINISTER
by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn.
Chichester Festival Theatre To 5 June 2010.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Gielgud Theatre Shaftesbury Avebnue London To 15 January 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5100.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 May at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Balance of power weighed in comic terms.
After 13 years of Labour government, this updated stage reinvention of Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s political battleground between Prime Minister Jim Hacker and senior civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby (famed on 1980s TV) comes in a version written during one government’s graveyard shift and produced in the eventual dawn of another, near-unprecedented political situation.
There’s no doubt which mood predominates. Plays reflect their time, and a dropped-in reference or two to a coalition do nothing to temper the over-riding mood of a lone prime minister embattled within an unpopular administration.
Nowadays, the contest of wills is triangular. Claire Sutton, prime ministerial adviser, emerging from a false bookcase, is Hacker’s secret weapon against civil service machinations. In another way, it’s two against two, Sir Humphrey helped by classics-educated young hopeful, Bernard Woolley – aptly named and brimming with unconfidence.
There’s some difficulty turning an original half-hour TV format into a two-hour play which needs a developing story and sustainable characters. Jay and Lynn provide high stakes at Chequers, with the repercussions of an international conference. Somebody has to save Jim’s day when a key participant from an emerging nation makes a morally impossible demand.
It’s an acute device, pitting international expediency against human values, and the authors rightly go to an ultimate taboo in raising the issue. This tough call creates dramatic conflict and some apt unease among the comedy. Less successful is the resort to religion, with God the hope in bleak despair.
It’s not the only unconvincing grasp at comic action. And there are moments the authors move from comedy to lecturette. But these are in the minority. With the panelled walls and russet tree views of Chequers providing a setting of tradition and luxury, a sterling cast give fine performances, Henry Goodman providing verbal assurance even when at a loss, David Haig splenetic and insistent, no easy pushover.
It’s amusing to see RSC hard-man Jonathan Slinger as the anxious Bernard, while Emily Joyce has an aptly cool assurance. There’s fine support from William Chubb’s BBC supremo, Tim Waller’s interviewer and Sam Dastor, dealing tactfully with his diplomatic foreigner.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Henry Goodman.
Bernard Woolley: Jonathan Slinger.
Jim Hacker: David Haig.
Claire Sutton: Emily Joyce.
The Kumranistan Ambassador: Sam Dastor.
Jeremy Burnham: William Chubb.
Simon Chester: Tim Wallers.
Voice-over: Samantha Dew.
Director: Jonathan Lynn.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell:
Sund: John Leonard.
Assistant director: Tim Hoare.