The Theatreguide.London Review
Gielgud Theatre, Winter 2010 - 2011; Apollo Theatre Summer 2011; Gielgud Autumn 2011; Trafalgar Studios Summer-Winter 2012
(Each of the revivals had cast changes.)
This spin-off of the popular
1980s TV sitcom has about as many laughs as three or four episodes of
the original - which is to say quite a few. If it wavers and loses
energy occasionally, fans of the original and newcomers they bring along
to introduce to the fun should be well satisfied.
For the uninitiated, the
series was built on the continual sparring of Jim Hacker, a Member of
Parliament, later Prime Minister, and Sir Humphrey Appleby, the senior
civil servant whose mission in life was to keep him from actually doing
anything. Usually Sir Humphrey won out, though occasionally Hacker
proved he had learned the game well enough to win a round.
Written by Antony Jay and
Jonathan Lynn, authors of the TV series, and directed by Lynn, the stage
version updates things with references to the banking crisis, global
warming and the like, but the major shift is a certain warming between
the PM and Sir Humphrey, the two now less antagonists than allies
constantly frustrated by their differences in method and philosophy.
The plot centres on a foreign
diplomat they have to keep happy at all costs, even though his kinky
sexual tastes raise moral and logistic problems, and much of the fun
lies in watching them twist themselves into all sorts of pretzels trying
to figure out how to pander (literally) to him while still maintaining
some tenuous hold on morality, legality and Britishness.
As delightful as that gag is,
it does begin to run out of steam about midway through the evening, and
the authors inject temporary energy with some essentially irrelevant but
audience-pleasing picking on the BBC before things begin to peter out
again toward the end.
Along the way there are plenty
of political jokes, some of them older than the original TV series, like
calling the Prime Minister's position 'the only job that requires no
previous experience' or reacting to the thought of a hung parliament
with 'Hanging's too good for them', and there is the
peep-behind-the-political-curtain that no less an authority than
Margaret Thatcher certified as remarkably accurate.
The stage version would have
been impossible without successful replacements for the much-loved stars
of the TV series, Paul Eddington as Hacker and Nigel Hawthorne as Sir
Humphrey. And here the producers have been extraordinarily fortunate,
because David Haig and Henry Goodman are so perfect for the roles that
they come perilously close to eclipsing all memory of the originals.
Both men are accomplished
farceurs, and know that the secret to comic acting is to play it as
tragedy and not be seen trying for laughs. Haig is a master of
doubletakes, and the script gives him plenty of opportunities to react
with varying degrees of disbelief, astonishment and pure panic at Sir
Humphrey's shenanigans or the twists of the plot. And Goodman delights
in the several arias of pure gobbledegook the authors have given the
civil servant to spout whenever he is asked a simple yes-or-no question.
They're ably supported by
Jonathan Slinger and Emily Joyce as political aides, Sam Dastor as a
dryly amused foreigner, William Chubb as the harried BBC man and Tim
Wallers as a TV interviewer with familiar mannerisms.
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Review - Yes Prime Minister - Gielgud 2010, Apollo 2011