Like so many, I am sure, in the theatre audience, I was a big fan of the television series Yes Prime Minister and of its protagonists: Jim Hacker, Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard Woolley. My happy sense of anticipation on sitting down in the Trafalgar Studios was therefore not unmixed with apprehension; after so many years, could the writers possibly replicate the original magic? Were my memories about to be spoiled forever?
I am delighted to report that the theatre production of Yes, Prime Minister lived up to the television series on every level. The dialogue was as sharp and funny as ever; a never-ending series of one-liners belted out by the cast with impressive fluidity. “I am their leader! I must follow them!” cries Jim Hacker of the British people, to general audience hilarity. The acting was generally superb, with special mention going to Robert Daws. His Jim Hacker was alternately bewildered and cunning, sometimes despairing, sometimes on the brink of hysteria, but always believable. Michael Simpkins was an urbane Sir Humphrey – keep an ear out for his wonderful monologues – and Bernard Woolley was played with bumbling innocence and outrage by Clive Hayward. The feminine touch was supplied by Emily Bruni as the endless-legged, silky smooth, smug personal advisor, whose meltdown in the second act is as convincing as it is welcome.
The premise of the play, revolving around the sexual shenanigans of the Foreign Minister of Kumranistan, is utterly ridiculous, its purpose merely to illustrate the moral elasticity of even the most high-minded British politician. It is on this one point that I feel the play falls down; it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Is it a light, funny, frothy political farce? Or is it rather a biting satire about the current state of British politics? Most of the play’s jokes are as warm and comforting as hot buttered crumpets; very predictable and safe, but nonetheless welcome for all that. Then suddenly it spins around into a vituperative – and, one suspects, genuinely bitter – attack on the BBC. Whilst remaining witty and entertaining, suddenly the play seems rather like a vehicle for the authors’ opinions, as they get ever so slightly carried away by their own cleverness. Maybe due to this dichotomy the play seemed to lose its way somewhat in the second act, meandering this way and that, and at times – whisper it – appearing rather a pale copy of the scurrilous political TV comedy The Thick of It. However it found its way again without too much loss of time or energy, and by the end was fully back up to speed and back on track.
Overall this play is a delight for old fans and new. Witty, intelligent, well-acted and supplying enough belly laughs to cheer up even the most miserable British summer.
Review by Genni Trickett
Updated 18th October 2014