Theatre Review: Yes, Prime Minister - York Theatre Royal

York Theatre Royal

Monday 16th April: Politicians are always ripe for having the Michael extracted from them but it takes great skill to do it with some class and intelligent wit. Yes, Minister and its successor Yes, Prime Minister managed to achieve this and are now safely regarded as TV classics. With a return to television waiting in the wings, the stage production is touring the UK following a run in London’s West End – and it is everything a fan of the original shows could wish for.

The trio of favourite characters are all present – the hapless Prime Minister, Jim Hacker; the well meaning but slightly naïve Bernard Woolley, the PM’s Principal Private Secretary; and of course the puppet master himself, Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby.

Anyone who will recalls the TV show will take a short amount of time to adjust to different actors taking on these well loved characters but each of them makes them their own and you soon stop making any comparisons.

The PM (Graham Seed) is wet behind the ears and in need of guidance – which he gets whether asked for or not – but not the complete idiot other may believe him to be. Bernard (Clive Hayward) is loveable, with a touch of innocence which is appealing in a world cynics and people more concerned about personal advancement rather than the good of the national; and Sir Humphrey (Michael Simkins) is conniving and manipulative, with a sneer and a smile.

Add to the mix Special Policy Advisor Claire Sutton (Polly Maberly), Director-General of the BBC Jeremy Burnham (Tony Boncza), and The Kumranistan Ambassador (Sam Dastor) - whose dubious personal request is the source of much of the narrative - and the result is a tight comedy full of witty one-liners and well rounded characters.

Special mention must also go to Tim Wallers whose portrayal BBC TV presenter Simon Chester bears an uncanny likeness to a certain Mr Paxman and is a wonderful bit of characterisation.

Those attracted to the theatre due to the original shows are in safe hands as, although it has been tweaked to include modern references, Yes, Prime Minister remains true to the spirit and style of the originals. The Director Jonathan Lynn and writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn are supplying audiences with exactly what they are expecting – and audiences are loving it. With all the action all taking place in one location in Chequers, Designer Simon Higlett has gone for a realistic set – which is increasingly rare when modern theatre tends to require flexible, multi-purpose spaces being more representative rather than literal in their approach.

And if you are not familiar with the television shows? If you want sharp political comedy that is clever and funny rather than savagely cutting, then you won’t be disappointed.

Yes, Prime Minister is as good, and as relevant, today as it ever has been. A great night out.

Review by James Eaglesfield

Remaining tour dates
w/c 16 Apr – York Theatre Royal
w/c 23 Apr – Cambridge Arts
w/c 30 Apr – Derby Playhouse
w/c 8 May – Darlington Civic