Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Yes, Prime Minister Review

We were wary that this production of Yes, Prime Minister would have a set of ideal viewers restircted to fans of the original 1980s sitcom, but extremely pleased to find that this was not the case. Although it retains the same core of characters, and the same writers (duo Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn reunited for the 30th anniversary revival), the issues, moral dilemmas and the channels which present potential for corruption in politics have all been superbly updated for the second decade of the 21st century.

It is set at Chequers, during a conference planning a pipeline to transport oil from Kumranistan, in eastern Europe. The characters debate the morals of a dubious affair with the Foreign Secretary of the country, which is necessary to shake on the deal. Simon Williams is brilliantly cast as the superior Sir Humphrey Applebly, who towers over the PM Jim Hacker (Richard McCabe) and Private Secretary Bernard Woolley (Chris Larkin). He hardly stopped to draw breath in his long-winded, jargon strewn speeches, which more than once earned an appreciative round of applause from the audience. The constantly scapegoat of a civil servant, Bernard, earns 90% of audience sympathy, which comes to a head in the pathos of his line near the end of the production, ‘I think I’ve lost my moral compass tonight’. The remaining 10% of sympathy is reserved for the pathetic PM. Though you’ll despise his self-importance and incapabilities, a small part of your heart will go out to him in the hilarious episode when he climbs under the table to hide from his imploding career.

After a slow start, presumably while the audience members unfamiliar with the show gauged the tone of the production, the show was reliably producing laughs every few minutes. Every tender spot in 21st century politics is tried and tested, from Global Warming controversies to banking crises. The super-up-to-date reference to phone hacking marks just how flexible is the script, constantly tweaked to reflect the changing political culture. It works because the foundations of political satire remain unchanged. Jay and Lynn pinpoint the areas which demolish our trust in politics, and squeeze them to breaking point.

The return of Yes, Prime Minister to the West End this summer shows that it has widespread appeal. Sir Humphrey, Bernard and Hacker are such clear characters, and the political content so up-to-date, familiarity to the 1980s sitcom is totally unnecessary. Adult humour and controversial racial and sexual content make this production unsuitable for anyone under the age of 15. Yes, Minister creates the perfect blend of edginess and farce, thanks to great comic acting from the four core actors, and an expert script.

You can see Yes, Prime Minister at Trafalgar Studios in the West End.

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