Yes, Prime Minister
Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn
Chichester Festival Theatre
The Hawth, Crawley
The writers of the original extremely popular nineteen eighties TV series have also written this stage version so you can expect the same brilliantly satirical wit and, having been advised by Bernard Donoughue who was Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister in the seventies, you can also expect that depiction of life in the corridors or power is fairly accurate, if a little exaggerated. That could definitely be something to worry about, but being very British we laugh instead, and the play is really very funny, even while thinking “OMG is this the way the country is run?” seemingly for the benefit of those running it!
Now it is brought up to date but not a lot has changed. Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby is not quite so powerful as he once was, and the Prime Minister now has a larger team of advisors to combat Sir H’s arguments, but basically the theme is the same only in an ever faster-moving world with Blackberrys making communication instant and constant, the ‘media’ quick to pick up on any breaking news, and don’t even mention the Daily Mail and what they might print.
Graham Seed, who played the character Nigel Pargetter for twenty years (until his character was brutally killed off last year) proves that there is life after The Archers and makes a very creditable Prime Minister. He is not so flamboyantly hysterically out of control as David Haig became in the same part, but perhaps Haig is the only one who could pull that off and still make it believable, and Seed has his own methods of showing the anguish of the situation he finds himself in.
Michael Simkins takes to the part of Sir Humphrey like a duck to water. His character seems a little bored, conscious of his power and the fact that he will outlast several prime ministers, while his “interminable and obfuscatory soliloquies” are delivered by Simkins with speed, assurance and, causing the same bafflement as the originals, earned spontaneous rounds of appreciative applause.
Clive Hayward is Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley and, although not quite the young, well-intentioned, innocent newcomer of the original, he does have the same quips and propensity to correct people in Latin, while Polly Maberly is the PM’s Special Policy Advisor, frighteningly efficient and well informed—a good match for Sir Humphrey.
Problems come thick and fast for this PM, global warming and the money for research to prove its existence being high on the agenda. The commercialism of the BBC is thrown back at their insistent interviewers, with accusations of cheaply showing ever more repeats and reality programmes and the difficulty of bailing out Greece etc. is ever present, but nearer to home—can it be true that the cook who has been serving excellent lunches just happens to be an illegal immigrant?
The worst is yet to come when the Kumranistan Ambassador (Sam Dastor) demands that an under-age schoolgirl be provided for the night or the promised loan of five trillion Euros will not be forthcoming. Will expediency overcome morality and who has a claim on their morality being the only one possible?
Directed by Lynn, it is fast, funny and a rib-tickling sure-fire hit. The audience listened carefully and attentively to every word and showed their appreciation in prolonged applause.
Touring to Canterbury, York, Cambridge, Derby and Darlington
Reviewer: Sheila Connor