I'm Sorry, Prime Minister, I Can't Quite Remember
Built By Barn in association with Bob and Marianne Benton and Mark Goucher Production
Theatre Royal Bath
Jonathan Lynn has returned to his treasured characters for what is billed as a goodbye to the beloved political duo of Sir Humphrey Appleby (Clive Francis) and Jim Hacker (Christopher Bianchi). Without his trusty partner, the late Antony Jay, by his side, for the BAFTA-winning TV show, Lynn writes and directs the final chapter in I’m Sorry, Prime Minister, I Can’t Quite Remember.
Now, both Yes, Minister and its successor Yes, Prime Minister were televised before I was born. The full extent of my knowledge had all been accumulated in the last month. Firstly, Mark Lawson’s article in The Guardian which highlighted Lynn’s desire to return to the pair. Lastly, two episodes caught on BBC iPlayer the day preceding this review. As far as I can deduce, this is The Thick Of It for my parent’s generation. Less F-bombs from Malcolm Tucker, more soft-cut jabs and dry humour from Sir Humphrey. Nevertheless, I profess to quite enjoying it.
So fast forward more than 40 years since it was first broadcast, the final chapter for Sir Humphrey and Jim sees the former Prime Minister in a campus scandal with fears of being ‘cancelled’. He enlists the help of the former civil service head honcho to try and save his job. The pair are joined by recently hired careworker Sophie (Michaela Bennison), a former student under Hacker who has differing views on the current landscape.
The guise and façade of what happens behind 10 Downing Street and Whitehall’s doors has almost disappeared with 24-hour rolling news blasted out and live-streamed inquiry hearings providing regular front-page headlines; with more leaks than a storm-battered thatched cottage, the satire of politics has perhaps lessened over years, especially in the era of Trump.
Clive Francis, who first performed at Theatre Royal Bath almost forty years ago (and returns in January in Somerset Maugham’s The Circle), looks as fresh as he probably was when he guest starred in Yes, Minister. His dynamic with Bianchi is delightfully witty and never misses a beat.
On offer is plenty political as they tackle immigration, Brexit, LGBTQ+ rights, gender identity, no-platforming, positive discrimination and classism. Quite a lot of heavy topics to pack into a two-hour comedy—maybe too much. At its strength as a two-hander, Sophie often feels forced into the conversation to remind Humphrey and Jim that it is 2023. It is stuck between social commentary and a bromance—struggling to blend the two. While Lynn struggles to manage the pair in the 21st century, he effortlessly produces one-liners which would succeed in getting any generation in hysterics.
Reviewer: Jacob Newbury