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Yes, Prime Minister review

Caroline Coates is more than amused by the stage adaptation of the TV sitcom

Published on February 15th 2011.

Yes, Prime Minister review

Britain is weighed down by debt and the coalition government is divided.

If that isn’t bad enough, global climate change has been pushed firmly back onto the agenda thanks to the findings of the latest dazzling “computer model”. And this time PM Jim Hacker (Richard McCabe) not only has to find a solution, but more publicly than he’d like in the age of 24 hour rolling news.

It certainly isn’t good for public relations when the foreign minister of Kumranistan starts demanding an underage teenage prostitute is sent to his bedroom.

Eighties sitcom Yes, Prime Minister has been hauled into the present day by its original writers - Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn - for the stage adaptation of this satirical comedy.

The audience is flung into the eye of the storm and a crisis weekend away at Chequers. Hackers’ key advisors seem to have found a solution to the country’s financial meltdown, the cabinet split and the fact that a key European Council conference is on the verge of collapse.

Oil-rich Asian state Kumranistan is offering a $10 trillion loan for the right to run a pipeline in a zigzag fashion across Europe. And cabinet secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Simon Williams) is going to make sure the deal goes through – to his advantage.

The question is – what could possibly go wrong?

Could it be the fact that the PM’s expert dumpling-making chef turns out to be an illegal immigrant? Or that news has been leaked to the press that the UK is on the verge of joining the EU?

It certainly isn’t good for public relations when the foreign minister of Kumranistan starts demanding an underage teenage prostitute is sent to his bedroom.

We are propelled into the second half of the performance wondering just how Hacker and his cronies are going to scramble out of a mess worthy of a PG Wodehouse caper.

Sir Humphrey may no longer be in charge – he has competition from the principal private secretary Bernard Woolley (Chris Larkin) and special policy advisor Claire Sutton (Charlotte Lucas). But he has not changed, with Williams expertly delivering the character’s trademark turgid eulogies and bewildering diatribes that leave the audience gasping.

Nor has Hacker, who more than ever finds himself wrestling with his moral compass – encouraged by Woolley and Sutton – and desperately pleading for someone to tell him what to do.

Perhaps the funniest scene of the night comes when a BBC reporter calls with a number of probing questions for the PM. To avoid any further disasters, Woolley is told to conduct the interview by quoting back ready-made retorts contained within a PR handbook. These are responses that have been used time and again by the world’s leaders to avoid saying anything.

And this time it seems to work.

The real beauty of Yes, Prime Minister is found in the intricacy of the plot. Whether it be catching Humphrey out at his own game –designing fiscal policy to feather his own nest – or watching Hacker fluster as things unravel.

Sutton adds to the lunacy with her hair brained ideas. Smuggling an illegal foreign sex worker aboard the Queen’s private chopper and into the Prime Minister’s country retreat is just one of her ridiculous suggestions.

The only real criticism is the subtle tensions between civil servants and politicians are at times lost in favour of big-time entertainment.

This was perhaps as an unavoidable result of stretching what was a 30 minute formula into a two-hour stage production.

But all in all, Yes, Prime Minister reminds us why political satire is one of Britain’s most valuable assets.

Yes, Prime Minister runs until February 19 at the Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, tickets £12.50 to £28.50.

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