Last night we went to the soon-to-be-refurbished Newcastle Theatre Royal to see Yes, Prime Minister, a new stage play from the original TV writers. With an all new cast, naturally.
It’s very solid stuff — for good or ill it’s just like a long TV episode, or perhaps a few intertwined TV episodes, centring one one very long weekend conference. There’s only one set – a lovely wood pannelled PM’s office at Chequers, giving it the air of classic farce with characters frantically entering and leaving. Like the TV show there are lots of amusing, semi-didactic digressions as characters ruminate on various aspects of democracy, and there’s an enjoyable but slightly too pat ending that ignores any inconvenient plot elements to bring about a satirical resolution.
The performances do suffer from comparison with the originals but the scripting is still there, and with the exception of a few moments that fall flat the cast’s comic timing is good. Simon Williams is particularly effective as Sir Humphrey Appleby, in a performance that recalls Nigel Hawthorne without mimicking him. In comparison, Richard McCabe’s Jim Hacker is oilier and less likeable than the TV version and only reminds me how good Paul Eddington was in the role. He’d work better as a new character. It doesn’t help that the central moral dilemma of the plot, designed to expose the self-serving venality of politicians, is pretty extreme and doesn’t really allow the characters to remain engaging as they spiral ever further from their principles.
(Also at one point Sir Humphrey gets a speech denying global warming which is perfectly fine in context but it turns out I have no sense of humour on this topic.)