You’d have thought with public confidence in MPs at an all time low with tales of floating duck houses, employment of illegal immigrants and second home flipping, any comedy based on the political machine would seem tame in comparison.
Alan Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s stage update of the classic TV series Yes, Prime Minsister, now transferred into the Gielgud following a sell-out run at Chichester, manages to not only play tribute to the original but also weave in enough references to the modern political landscape to make it fresh and relevant.
Prime Minister Jim Hacker is running a country in crisis, or is it Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby running Prime Minister Hacker? The nation is broke, recovery slow, cuts are having to be made, arguments ensue with Europe and the BBC are being accused of political bias. No not an evening on Question Time but an evening's events at Chequers. Add in a delicate situation with a visiting dignitary and it’s not going to be a smooth evening. As a BBC Television crew arrive to film a live interview with the PM can Hacker keep it together?
It would be easy to fall into the trap of trying to recreate the televison series, immortalised by Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds but director (and co author) Jonathan Lynn have wisely avoided that snare. While there is an affectionate nod to the original, these characters inhabit their own world. Henry Goodman’s manipulative Sir Humphrey is as verbally dextrous as the character's previous occupier but in these times of cutbacks perhaps not so assured of his position. David Haig’s PM is also as superficially insecure as his television counterpart but, beneath the wobbles, lies an equally cunning mind, perhaps more of a match for Sir Humphrey this time round. Caught in the middle are Jonathan Slinger as put upon Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley and a new addition, Emily Joyce as Special Policy Advisor Claire Sutton. Another new addition to familiar characters is Tim Waller’s BBC presenter Simon Chester. A glorious amalgam of Robert Peston, Andrew Marr and Jeremy Vine with a hint of Paxman thrown in for good measure.
Jay and Lynn’s script is full of the classic lines fans have come to expect but will also appeal to a wider audience. There are moments when the humour becomes darker but there are enough references to the both the original and modern political landscape to please the purists.
Simon Higlett has created a visually impressive Chequers set for the action to play out on - all stone clad bay windows and oak panelling with some nice high tech touches. A James Bond–esque giant screen and automatic curtains and clever use of live video bring the action right up to date.
In many ways this is a highly traditional stage comedy but the witty topical script and spot on performances make this a delight. Yes, Prime Minister may have finished broadcasting 22 years ago but this assured production should keep PM Hacker in office for some time to come.