Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

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Carolyn Young as SPAD Claire Sutton and Andrew Whittle as Jim Hacker

Yes, Prime Minister

Swan Theatre Amateur Company


To be honest you are unsure whether to laugh or cry at this wonderful production of Yes, Prime Minister as the long running television comedy brings its manifesto of mirth to the stage.

Laugh because it is so funny as Sir Humphrey does all in his power – and extensive vocabulary – to maintain the comfortable status quo of Whitehall as a sort of gentleman’s club for mandarins while Prime Minister Jim Hacker, shows us a world class (a favourite Government phrase for everything these days) display of stunning incompetence.

He has a raft of colleagues after his job and will do or say anything to remain in power and win the next election, and has pretty well no idea of how to go about any of it.

Cry . . . well, the plot might be a little fanciful, but the way it is dealt with could almost be a documentary, such is the state of our politics these days.

It all starts with the EU facing financial meltdown and a major EU conference in London under EU President Jim Hacker (the EU being something we were once a member of for those with short memories) and, out of the blue comes salvation in the form of a huge loan from one of the somewhere or otherstans on the other side of Moscow in a somewhat dodgy oil and pipeline deal where the proverbial won’t hit the fan for 20, 30 maybe 50 years.

So that’s all right then as that will make it a problem for some other chancer in Government while, in the here and now, Jim will be hailed as the saviour of the EU and of the British economy.

Success is all but in the bag, except the foreign minister of Kumranistan expects rather more than a decent dinner during his butter-him-up stay at Chequers, with the pipeline and oil deal depending upon, should we say, a little night-time company, three of them in fact. No . . . friends, and yes it is a euphanism . . . then no signature on the mega money treaty.


Martin Bourne as Sir Humphrey with Jim Hacker

PM Jim is more confident than the minister he was on TV, but no brighter, in a lovely performance from Andrew Whittle as the man in charge, throwing his weight about before asking Sir Humphrey what to do next – and with the foreign dignitaries request, or more a demand, there is an awful lot of what next from Jim. Like how, where, when, can we, should we and, number one priority for Government, will the Press find out.

Then there is Martin Bourne as Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Permanent Secretary and the man who never uses one word when a whole dictionary is available to provide baffling answers that can mean anything you want them to with both credit and deniability built in. His long answers and explanations are a masterpiece of eloquent obscurity – and of memory on the part of Bourne.

And, a sign of the times, we have Carolyn Young giving us a confident Claire Sutton, throwing in her two pennyworth – although in reality probably costing much more than that – as a SPAD, a special policy advisor, the must have accessory for any self respecting minister, which gives Jim another source of advice . . . something else he can fail to grasp.

She gives us the wonderful quote about politicians that “memoirs are not the truth, they are the case for the defence.”.

Then there is Bernard Woolley, the Principal Private Secretary, played sort of smugly and nervously at the same time by Christopher Newbould. Bernard is torn between his sort of boss, the transient PM, and his real boss, the man he is under, the permanent Sir Humphrey, so he is often trying to agree with both. A classicist he throws in Latin phrases at the drop of a galerum, and is always ready to correct any mixed metaphor much to the annoyance of everyone.

Now throw in the Kumranistan Ambassador played in night attire by Keith Finch and we discover the moral differences, particularly with regard to women, between Britain and the Asian republic he represents. The ambassador, of course, being a contemporary of classical scholar Sir Humphrey at Oxford – with a Blue for cricket. Both are members of the MCC, and no doubt the same club, and he sees the problem of the foreign minister’s little indulgences as one for the British Government rather than himself.

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Christopher Newbould's Bernard with Sir Humphrey

Then as an aside we have the BBC trying to tie the PM down to a Sunday morning Britain in Crisis programme and a wonderful section with Bernard answering questions from a BBC reporter on behalf of the PM from a book of numbered stock answers prepared by SPAD Claire. Very funny, especially as we have heard the all things to all men responses almost word for word from real politicians so many times before.

We even have Sue Hawkins popping in for a drink as the BBC’s Director General, Jemima Burnham, as no one had remembered to cancel her invitation with the financial crisis in full swing. She is threatened with cuts to the licence fee, being made to axe TV channels, digital channels, radio stations and the rest . . . unless she toes the party line of course, which is a little closer than writers Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn might have imagined.

Not that threats are not Government stock in trade, with Sir Humphrey threatened with civil service reform if he strays to far or hides to much from the Hacker line and we even see the uglier side of Government as a cook, a foreigner, and her, propositioned, teenage daughter are arrested under anti-terror laws – a terrorist being defined here as anyone who might embarrass the Government or PM. We might have laughed, but it was a little uncomfortable.

Some TV sitcoms arrive on stage as two or three TV episodes stitched together as a somewhat unsatisfactory whole, this though, is the real thing, written as a play for the stage. It has had a few tweaks from when I last saw it as a professional show, and is wickedly funny slicing through the doublespeak and hypocrisy of politics with gay abandon and a surgeon’s precision.

It is a wonderful set, loaned by Colwall Players, and experienced director Paul Bellamy shows a deft polished touch with what is a very accomplished production.

There is no attempt at a sort of theatrical karaoke, no trying to mimic the TV series stalwarts Coventry born Sir Nigel Hawthorn. Paul Eddington or Derek Fowlds, all now sadly deceased, the cast make the characters their own for a wonderful, biting comedy satirising those who lead us. Well acted, well directed and, well, gloriously funny. One you can safely vote for to 29-02-20.

Roger Clarke


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