Monday, November 1, 2010

Yes Prime Minister review Gielgud Theatre - wit at its prime

With the party in government changing every decade or so (sometimes more often), one wonders who really runs the country. Well, it must be the Civil Service then, one argues. No doubt, an excellent team, albeit unelected, manages the smooth transition of power between the Labour and Conservative governments to make sure there is minimal fuss, even for the case of coalition government. So the Civil Service is indeed the backbone of the government, the oil that runs the machine, the unseen hand behind the throne, and all these without any political affiliation.

If only things are as simple.


Yes, Prime Minister, currently playing at Gielgud Theatre on a limited run from 16 Sept 2010 till 15 Jan 2011, is an current version of the wildly successful TV and radio political satire series with the same name. The series, which was hugely popular in the 80s, chart the progression of MP Jim Hacker who become a minister of the government and eventually the top job of the Prime Minister.

The stage version sees PM Hacker (David Haig) just holding onto power by means of a coalition government and plagued by a financial crisis that threatens Europe and to his horror might just mean the end of his political career. His Cabinet
Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Henry Goodman) is contented to let Hacker thinks he's running the show while busying moving the gears of power in the background for 'the good of the country'. Hacker's Principal Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley (Jonathan Slinger) remains torn between his Civil Service affiliation and his loyalty to his boss. A wild card is added into the mix by means of a Special Policy Adviser, Claire (Emily Joyce) who is firmly on Hacker's side acts as a counter to the oily Humphrey.

The play starts with Hacker facing yet another inconclusive European Union ministerial meeting, which he chairs. Help is at hand from a oil rich former Soviet country "Kumranistan" which will extend a loan of 10 trillian dollars for a promise to be paid a premium for future oil contracts. However, Hacker will have to deal with Kumranistan's Foreign Minster first.

Things start to get out of hand when Bernard inform Hacker of the Foreign Minster's rather inappropriate request. Failing to comply will mean certain scuttling of the deal. Even then, what Humphrey and Bernard conveniently left out was that the money will be transferred in Euros and under the jurisdiction of the European Central Bank. All that points to Hacker necessarily handing monetary control to Brussels before Great Britain would even see any of the money - a fact that Hacker abhors.

Again, if only things are that simple. Throw in global warming and the BBC determined to play on Hacker's inability to yield any concrete results, not to mention the fragility of his coalition government, you are in for a treat.

Haig is thoroughly convincing as PM Hacker who is clearly out of his depth at the top job - a fact that PM is fully aware of. While the meaty part of Sir Humphrey is played to almost hilarious perfection by Goodman, Slinger's Bernard with his stuttering naivety is a joy to watch. Playing to a full house at on a Saturday matinee, Yes, Prime Minister thrilled its audience with its wit and rapturous applause punctuated its entire length. If there is just one show that you'll catch this wintry season, it'll have to be Yes, Prime Minister. Tickets are running out fast, to avoid disappointment, book your discount tickets in advance.

Yes, Prime Minister
Gielgud Theatre
Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1V 8AR

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Fëanor said...

Ah, you beat me to this. Planning to go in a couple of weeks. Important question: should I go for Harry Potter first? Decisions, decisions...

C K said...

Get DVD for Potter, go for this instead. Knowing you, this is right up your lane.

Fëanor said...

Well, I saw the play yesterday. It was a bit uneven, I thought: many hilarious moments, and many pedestrian moments. The PM was far too overwrought, didn't you think? Flinging himself about and cringing and whingeing. Very slapstick. But Appleby was good, and his two ultra-long sentences were quite well delivered, no?

Now I can go watch Harry Potter with quiet conscience...

C K said...

I had the benefit of not having watched the original Yes, Prime Minister with Hawthorne and Eddington and Fowlds. So the stage version was rather refreshing to me.

I caught up with the original series after the play and I have to agree with you that the the stage version lack the punch and wit of the tv version. Like you said, the PM character was a bit of a lightweight. That said, I thought that the BBC interview was rather entertaining though it was marred by the Special Political Advisor's 'black Stig' appearance. Well, glad that you got some laughs out of it.

Pray tell about the Harry Potter film!

Karin said...

I see you caught this one. I managed to catch it myself when I was up in London over December and my review of it is on my blog ( Unfortunately I was one of those who watched the play having both watched the old episodes and read the books that spun off from the series (major fan, yes) so I was a little disappointed by the play.

In terms of winter offerings, actually, for those who wish to catch something really good and who don't mind queueing in the morning (5am at least if you want seated tickets, 7am onwards if you don't mind standing), King Lear starring Derek Jacobi at the Donmar Warehouse is really the best thing you can catch this winter. Jacobi's performance is utterly amazing and you'll get to see one of the best Shakespearean verse speakers alive doing his stuff. Excellent production in one of the smallest and most intimate venues off the West End. Highly recommended.

C K said...

Hey, it's quite evident that you are really into theatres. Fancy doing a guest post on Singaporean in London on the offerings in London?