Old favourites in search of a plot

Yes, Prime Minister: Sir Humphrey Appleby, Simon Williams, deflty guides Jim Hacker, Richard McCabe towards a decision in the best interests of everyone - everyone being, of course, Sir Humphrey.

Yes, Prime Minister

Birmingham Hippodrome


THIS is not so much Yes as Almost, Prime Minister.

This stage incarnation of the phenomenally successful TV series, which ended almost a quarter of a century ago, still has its hallmark bite and disdain for politicians.

There are the one-liners, the put downs, the duplicity and the contempt for the electorate with the whole purpose of Government and politics seemingly to remain in power for as long as possible as far as the politicians are concerned.

For the mandarins, such as Sir Humphrey Appleby, the cabinet secretary, played with an air of superior aplomb by Simon Williams, the object is not to allow the incumbent Prime Minister, whoever he or his party is, to change too much in the cosy world of Whitehall.

That was the formula that worked so successfully in Yes, Minister and then Yes, Prime Minister and Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn have successfully brought their creation to the stage with their hallmark bite and ireverence brought bang up to date with contemporary modern references scattered throughout like currants in a bun.

Lynn, now a big-time Hollywood director, keeps a further eye on things, as well as keeping the show up to date, by directing as well.

All that part of the play works with Jim Hacker, played artfully by Richard McCabe, leading a minority Government faced with a huge deficit and, personally, facing a growing rebellion among his colleagues. Hacker's emotions range from elation and triumph, particularly when he gets one over on Sir Humphrey, to the depths of despair, even hiding under his desk, when it all unravels.

Keeping the PM calm(ish) is his principal private secretary Bernard Woolley, woolley by name and nature, played by Chris Larkin and a new addition to the formula Claire Sutton, the special policy advisor, played by Charlotte Lucas.

These are the unelected, unaccountable political gurus, paid for handsomely by the taxpayer, which have become the essential fashion accessory for any self respecting minister these days.

The three actors playing the original characters, Jim, Sir Humphrey and Bernard, had a big task on their hands with most of the audience immediately comparing them to the much loved Paul Eddington, Sir Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fawlds from the TV series but to their credit all that was quickly forgotten and the characters took on a life of their own.

Bumbling along forcefully and with purpose Jim Hacker makes his point . . . possibly . . .  if that is all right Sir Humphrey

Williams was the elegant, suave, smarmy Sir Humphrey, with his long incomprehensible explanations earning applause from the audience, Larkin gave us a Bernard who walks the tightrope between doing the PM's bidding and not upsetting the man who controls his career, Sir Humphrey, while McCabe's Hacker is the floundering buffoon of a PM, flapping at every problem and relying on Sir Humphrey to solve them with his only weapon of control the threat of a Civil Service Reform Bill.

Charlotte Lucas just added the modern minder to the mix much to the chagrin of the traditionalist Sir Humphrey.

All of that worked beautifully. It is gloriously funny poking fun at politics and politicians who, let us be honest, fully deserve every prod they get.

So we have a struggling PM of a minority government, a failing economy and then suddenly one of that collection of states ending in stan over there in the east somewhere or other round about Afghanistan offers a $100 trillion loan to the EU in return for building an oil pipeline and buying its oil thus avoiding Russia – a godsend for Hacker's struggling Government and, much more important, his personal standing.

So far so good and then comes the main storyline, which sadly should be just that . . . a line, a couple of laughs and move on with the story.

Instead we end up with a plot so thin it would make the average supermodel look like Dawn French and not only that, it also sets off a slightly uneasy feeling at the back of the mind.

Yes there are laughs and some genuinely funny moments but from being a satire on the politics of the possible which has always been the strength of the Jay and Lynn creation it had moved into the politics of the highly improbable and a slightly unsavoury move at that.

The result was that the link with current reality of what is happening in No 10,  the strength of the original programme, was stretched that little bit further. There are still plenty of topical references, jibes and examples of the dark arts of Government but it is a pity they could not have been hung on a more believable scenario.

Still, it is an enjoyable evening and there is no attempt to recreate the TV series. There are no impressions or attempts to copy characters from the small screen – instead this is a play which stands firmly on its own two feet with its own characters who might be familiar but have a life of their own on stage.

It is funny, witty, has some biting lines and is a thoroughly enjoyable evening – it is just a pity the plot could not have been stronger or at the very least more believable. To 04-06-11.

Roger Clarke


Meanwhile from the back benches . . .


POLITICS has become a bit of a laughing stock in many ways, so just how serious is this new comedy by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn?

No doubt some of our current MPs squirm in their seats when they see the play, which is extremely funny in parts, but the main plank of the plot is a bit too daft, even for Westminster.

Everything is going along smoothly enough until Prime Minister Jim Hacker, trying to cope with the country's financial problems, seems to have hit the jackpot with an offer of a massive loan from an Asian state, as long as he backs a plan for a pipeline which will zig-zag through Europe.

But it's panic stations all round when the fictional Kumranistan's Foreign Minister wants government help to provide him with an underage schoolgirl for sex. Something you would expect to be kicked into touch, but Hacker and his civil service team actually spend their valuable time considering the crackpot idea.

Nevertheless, there are many wonderful moments in the play, including one where the PM's prayers for help are interrupted by a tremendous thunderstorm which seems a reply from the Heavens, and heavy rain cascades on the windows of the superb set, representing Chequers, our leader's country residence. And, would you believe, the cook there was an illegal immigrant! Naturally.

There is a brilliant performance from Simon Williams as the suave Cabinet Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby. A couple of his long-winded policy explanations are superbly delivered and earn warm applause from the audience.

Richard McCabe impresses as harassed Hacker, desperately trying to cope with mounting problems, and there are outstanding contributions from Chris Larkin (Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley) and Charlotte Lucas (Claire Sutton, Special Policy Advisor).

Directed by Jonathan Lynn, Yes, Prime Minister, runs to Saturday night 04.06.11

Paul Marston 

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