Thursday, April 23, 2015

Yes, Prime Minister - Review - People's Theatre

Yes, Prime Minister
People's Theatre
21st April 2015

The 1980s were renowned for the cutting political satire comedy shows - The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Spitting Image and, of course Yes, Minister and it's natural follow-up Yes, Prime Minister. The Conservative government was fertile ground for the political comedy. But then came the nineties and trendy new labour who strove to stay pals with anyone likely to try to lampoon them on national television. A wily move worthy of Sir Humphrey himself. The new labour spin doctors had learnt at the knee of Sir Humphrey and they had learnt well. Political satire pretty much died.
But now the Tories are back, albeit in a somewhat diluted form, and they are fighting for a second term, and with them has come the rebirth of satire. It hasn't quite hit the TV screens yet, but it is alive and kicking in the theatres with a new and updated Yes, Prime Minister stage play. Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn's play comes to The People's Theatre this week, just in time for the elections.
New and updated for the 21st Century it may be - poking its sharp wit at immigration, the war on terror and global warming, public spending, the nhs and pensions, MPs allowances and expenses claims...but it has its roots firmly fixed in the original TV show. The same ascerbic wit laying bare the ridiculous and quite frightening truth of Government and Civil Service macchinations.

The stage set is rather more sumptuous than is usual at the minimalist People's Theatre, but it is a perfect evocation of the PM's leather sofa-ed and oak-panelled study at Chequers. All the action (which admittedly is mostly of the wordy sort) happens in this one room. The characters keep us appraised of events that are happening outside the room, as Jim Hacker and his various civil service aides strive to get the better of the system, the very tricky diplomatic situation they find themselves in, and each other.

This is a comedy that requires precise and crisp delivery of lines and spot on timing. The characters, despite being reprehensibly self-serving, have to endear themselves to the audience. If they don't elicit empathy from the audience then the play simply doesn't work. They are rogues, but lovable ones. So casting is important - Sean Burnside is perfectly cast as Bernard Woolley. I have to admit I was surprised not to see Roger Liddle cast in the role of Jim Hacker, however he does play a mean Sir Humphrey Appleby, bamboozling the PM with his "simple yes or no" answers and receiving a round of applause from the equally bamboozled audience! After my initial doubts I warmed to Steve Hewitt as Jim Hacker, a shrewder PM than he was back in the 80s, he still can't work out how, but he knows he is being bamboozled!
Production photos by Jim Mohan

Under the direction of Eileen Davison the play moves smoothly through the various political crises and the final scene in which Hacker manages to  outwit the BBC journalist is a joy!

This is a very funny, thoroughly entertaining production.
Hopefully the return political satire in the form of Jim Hacker, Sir Humphrey and Bernard will presage a reawkening of the political conscience of the nation and we'll have a good turnout at the polls. But if new, new labour win they'd better be prepared for the lampooners...

Yes, Prime Minister plays until Sat 25th April. Cast your vote.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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