Being Prime Minister, muses scheming Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby, is ‘the only top job that requires no previous experience.’
Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, writers of television’s iconic Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, have brought their comic insights into how Britain is really governed almost up to date. Almost, as there is no Lib Dem Deputy PM for Sir Humphrey to torment.
During a weekend at his country house, Chequers, Prime Minister Jim Hacker faces financial crisis, global warming and the tyranny of the Blackberry and the 24-hour media as well as his civil servants. And now he has the essential Special Policy Advisor, smartly played by Charlotte Lucas, to give him bad advice.
Sir Humphrey (Simon Williams) astounds with his usual feats of wordy obfuscation and the PM (Richard McCabe) moves seamlessly from power-craziness to cowering under his magnificent desk as the plot moves into the realms of farce. But anyone undertaking these roles must be haunted by their Eighties’ TV predecessors, Nigel Hawthorne and Paul Eddington, who were somehow always just right. Lines like ‘We’re politicians, not bishops. We’re not here to do what’s right!’ stir memories of their voices and mannerisms in anyone who has seen the original series.
Bernard Woolley, Principal Private Secretary (Chris Larkin), wriggles between the demands of his two masters with nicely judged moral unease and he knows the importance of being earnest. ‘If I did everything the Prime Minister told me I’d be fired within a week.’ And sofa government is on display. The liberal unctuousness of some sections of the BBC is beautifully realised by Jonathan Coote (the Director-General), swivelling around on the PM’s sofa, whisky in hand, and by Michael Fenton Stevens, who plays the television presenter Simon Chester. His interview live from Chequers is a highlight, with credit to head of sound Andrea J Cox, who also provides star quality lightning.
Jonathan Lynn also directs this Chichester Festival Theatre production, which was performed at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End. He delivers a sparkling opening, but the pace slackens at times.
The real star of this Yes, Prime Minister is Simon Higlett’s set: the PM’s quarters at Chequers, stunning and beautifully-lit with a corridor of power leading off. Red boxes pile up against the panelling, the one file Sir Humphrey doesn’t want the PM to see of course being the one about the oil crisis in the bottom box, labelled ‘Vehicle Licensing Centre, Swansea.’
Yes, Prime Minister, Curve Theatre, Leicester until April 2.
Note: strong language and adult content