Yes, Prime Minister – King’s Theatre Tuesday 8th – Saturday 12th March evenings 7.30pm and Wednesday 9th and Saturday 12th matinee 2.30pm
By Freda O’Byrne
Johnathan Lynn’s Yes, Prime Minister takes Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Prime Minster Jim Hacker and the Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley and places them in today’s political maelstrom of financial crisis, global warming, and expanded European Union, the politics of oil, electronic communication and media power.
The curtain rose to reveal a naturalistic evocation of the Prime Ministers study in Chequers with the late afternoon sun streaming through its mullioned windows. At first the performances felt too large and unwieldy and at odds with the subtle performances we had been used to in the original television series. Within a few minutes, however, I had warmed to Sir Humphrey (Simon Williams) and his clever obfuscations, to Bernard Woolley (Chris Larkin) the Civil Service Private Secretary and his obsession with the detail of his job and his inability to feel comfortable without his jacket, to Jim Hacker, Prime Minister (Richard McCabe) who ‘didn’t know so many things’ but wanted to ‘do something’ but really did not know what and to Special Policy Adviser Claire Sutton (Charlotte Lucas) whose advice almost cost the PM his job.
The production took us from the genteel afternoon idyll and revealed a coalition government with a divided cabinet, a sinking pound and an impecunious European Union. A trillion dollar loan from Kurmenistan seemed to be the perfect lifeline until The Prime Minister’s Special Adviser tipped him off that Sir Humphrey would be gaining more than job satisfaction from the deal and that the money may only ever be available to the UK if Britain adopted the Euro. Eventually the Prime Minister got the better of Sir Humphrey by threatening a Civil Service reform bill and it seemed that all was well.
However a further complication in the form of a request for an under age prostitute from the minister for Kurmenistan threw everyone into a moral panic. If he didn’t get his child prostitute the loan would be off. Of course procuring a child prostitute for a foreign minister who is the Prime Ministers guest at Chequers (and necessitating the use of the Queen’s helicopter into the bargain) was out of the question. Or was it?
The second half of the play explored tortuous reasonings and farcical desperation as each character struggled with the dubious moral dilemma – one child’s sacrifice for the well being of millions of people in Europe. You know that once they hesitate to condemn the act outright the moral slide is under way and we were not disappointed – sex trafficking, illicit visas, silencing the media, global warming, the CIA, all were picked over and held up for us to examine.
The hysteria displayed particularly by the PM as he prayed to God to give him moral guidance is pierced by the divine intervention of the storm – a triumphant partnership of lighting (Tim Mitchell) and sound (Andrea J Cox) that had this reviewer leaping out of her seat in shock.
I very much liked the clever device of filming the BBC interview and screening it live in the PM’s study and also through television monitors garlanded around the proscenium arch. This was not only a perfect homage to the televisual origins of the play but it also reinforced the idea that these characters we were laughing at were actually accurate representations of today’s politicians, civil servants and media masters.
A thoroughly good night out – and my son’s verdict? “Witty, smart and an interesting insight into institutions. What seems like black and white from the outside is very much grey”.