Review – Yes, Prime Minister – Trafalgar Studios, London

In among the machinery of government on Whitehall, it seems oddly appropriate that Yes, Prime Minister has now found a new home at the Trafalgar Studios.

How many Civil Servants will end up on a fact-finding mission to the show though is questionable, with Alan Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s stage update of the classic TV series exposing the ineptitude of both politicians and their army of, often unseen, advisors.

Following runs at Chichester, various West End theatres and a successful UK tour, the show now takes up berth in Trafalgar Studios for the summer but in a heavily revised, and sanitised, script from that seen previously.

Prime Minister Jim Hacker is desperate for a good news story to boost his flagging image. A trade deal with a fictional Eastern European state could hold the key and make for a great PR story, the only spanner in the work being a request from the Ambassador that goes beyond the usual room service at Chequers.

In previous showings, there’s been an element of shock by the request for an underage school girl prostitute for the visiting dignitary but writers now seem to have toned this down for a potential summer tourist industry. In the result the piece does seem to have lost its bite.

While the moral dilemma still causes the PM and his advisors plenty to worry about, without that harder edge it seems somewhat flat. It’s a difficult decision, the original subject perhaps not a comfortable subject for a comedy, but here a decision not fully resolved.

Jay and Lynn’s script is however full of the classic themes fans of the original television series will easily recognise, though wisely the team avoid the trap of trying to recreate an exact replica of a TV episode onstage.

With the images of Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds still strong in the mind, it would be easy to try and replicate those original performances, but while there’s obvious similarity with the rhythm of the language, the current cast give their own take on the piece.

Robert Daw’s PM is perhaps more of a match for the Civil Service than Eddington’s original. Bumbling and willing to do anything for a good headline, there’s also a darker edge here. Fans of the verbal dexterity of Sir Humphrey won’t be disappointed, Michael Simkins machine gunning convoluted responses without ever answering anything.

There are new additions to the original TV series characters, mainly reflecting the new shape of political life, such as Special Policy Advisor Clair Sutton (Emily Bruni). Perhaps the voice of sanity and reason in this mad political office, there’s a suggestion that the real power has now shifted from the politicians and even the civil servants to these new breed of advisors.

Simon Higlett’s oak panelled Chequers set works well in the Trafalgar studio space and co-author Jonathan Lynn’s direction keeps up the required pace, however this sanitised version of the script does seem now to have robbed the piece of its edge. 24 years on from the original finished broadcasting, Yes, Prime Minister seems to have finally given in to political correctness.

It’s still an amusing evening that pokes fun at our political institutions, and the topical reference keep the piece fresh but perhaps, like Hacker himself, is now somewhat toothless.

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