Saturday, 6 November 2010

Yes, Prime Minister - a review

Last night I went to see 'Yes, Prime Minister' at the wonderful Gielgud Theatre - a huge fan of the original series I have been looking forward to seeing the modern version of this classic TV show.

Unfortunately I left slightly disappointed and am still wondering if it was because my expectations were too high, or that the play should have been called something other than 'Yes, Prime Minister'.

The joy of the original TV show, like other timeless classics such as Dad's Army, was its subtlety and innocence. Perhaps it really is the way of the modern world, but the innocence and cheekiness of the original show has been lost in this modern version.

The theme was, more than the TV show, that politicians are a laughing stock and, on the whole, incompetent. To be fair to the writers, this went down well with large parts of the audience. However, the applause at the end was rather lacklustre - and nothing like the reception I witnessed for 'War Horse' a couple of week's ago.

The cast have a wealth of experience; other reviews I have read say they make the roles their own. What was lacking from these interpretations was any kind warmth - you never grew to actually like or empathise with the characters.

Emily Joyce (Claire or in Humphrey's parlance 'My Dear Lady') was at turns calculating, cynical and manipulative then naive, even stupid. Jonathan Slinger as Bernard was weak and demonstrated none of the hidden deviousness that made the performance of Derek Fowlds such a delight. Sir Humphrey (played by Henry Goodman) wasn't as sharp or clever as a Cabinet Secretary should be - laissez-faire even - while David Haig's Jim Hacker caused me the greatest concern.

It turns out that the UK has elected Basil Fawlty as its Prime Minister. David Haig - most famous for his role as Bernard in Four Weddings and a Funeral - seems to spend the entire play shouting. Paul Eddington's Jim Hacker had a range of emotions, from utter bemusement via anger to cutting sarcasm, while Haig's performance seems stuck in a Torquay hotel foyer.

My other bugbear was with the adult content of the play. I'm no prude but a plot that suggests a British Prime Minister might procure an under age prostitute for a foreign minister staying at Chequers seems to be stretching reality too far.

Some of the comedy is quick and satire driven, other parts of the show fall into a sort of comfortable farce that is a joy to the eye and keep you smiling. There are genuine funny lines but they are too rare. Most of the play is amusing without ever inducing full on belly laughs. Ultimately it is the characters that let the play down.

While the depth of the characters in the original TV show made watching Yes, Prime Minister a joy, the characters of the stage adaption mean moments of brilliance don't carry the audience along. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Or maybe 'Yes, Prime Minister' was from a different time.     


  1. I saw this production when it was in Chichester and although I'm not quite as negative as you about it, I did feel uneasy a couple of times with jokes concerning underage prostitution.

    Regarding the farce element, I feel this could be justified as it was extending a half hour TV programme to about 2 hours on stage.

    I was slightly surprised by the swearing as this wasn't a feature of the TV series, but it was occasional and not constant as in "The Thick of It."

    Is it from a different time? Politics has got rougher and coarser (as demonstrated by the swearing). I feel perhaps the PM and the Permanent Secretary should have been given different names from Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey (although with the same master/servant relationship)because to show them as the same characters means that you are inevitably comparing the actors to the original ones. Also, I kept wondering how Hacker has managed to stay at the centre of power for 30 odd years.

    BTW Out of my friends who saw it, most enjoyed it and one went to see it a second time, but one loathed it because of the underage prostitute theme.

  2. Ed,
    I couldn't have put it better myself. Incredibly, this was advertised as suitable for age 10 and above...

    A disappointing production.


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