Yes, Prime Minister returns, to this time to the stage at York Theatre Royal, and adapted by original writers Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn after the success of the TV series first aired in 1986-87. First performed by Paul Eddington, also well known for his participation in another British comedy, The Good life, as the naïve Prime Minister, Jim Hacker and Nigel Hawthorne as the slippery Sir Humphrey Appleby, this comedy has since been voted amongst the Best British Sitcoms ranking sixth in 2004.
In the stage adaptation however, Graham Seed plays the Minister, best known for his work on the popular BBC Radio 4 series The Archers as Nigel Pargetter with Michael Simkins who has been in many stage productions including Mamma Mia and Chicago playing Sir Humphrey. Also included in the cast are Clive Hayward as Bernard Woolley and Polly Maberly as Claire Sutton.
This production sees a return to the classic power struggle between the Minister and Sir Humphrey with Bernard as the go-between attempting to play for both sides simultaneously. In this spectacular rendition this standard behaviour operates as the backdrop to the larger story centred on a moral issue as the Minster attempts to placate the Foreign Minister of Kumranistan who is due to loan £10 trillion to the UK as a bail out for the economic crisis currently progressing. The Foreign Minister, aware of his powerful position requests an underage call-girl. What ensues is a hilarious quandary for Hacker and his staff as they ponder their options.
Included in the expected shenanigans comes the iconic Sir Humphrey rants, in Britain’s Best Sitcom, Stephen Fry comments that “we love the idea of the coherence and articulacy of Sir Humphrey… it’s one of the things you look forward to in an episode of Yes Minister… when’s the big speech going to happen?”. Of the several rants presented, all were met with appreciative applause as Simkins pulled off the speeches with the same panache as Hawthorne did. The casual air he employs while demonstrating this marvellous feat of tongue and linguistics added to the humour.
While in typical fashion Hacker is confounded and confused by the speech and his increasing frustration at Sir Humphrey’s success in beclouding him. Seed plays this fantastically; reacting to the speeches and maintaining composure while the audience sound their appraisal. All the time we see Hayward playing Bernard switch from being Sir Humphrey’s ally to the Minsters, to which the audience can see the slight change in character as he addresses either authority, at all times maintaining his more servile manner. The audience enjoyed watching the stress levels in Hayward’s character increase and come to a head when he prays to God with the Minster looking for advice over their moral issue.
Also praised was the frequent political satire which alluded to the general feelings of the nation in the present climate and a less than subtle reference to Seed’s other work on The Archers was met with raucous laughter. The bumbling antics of Hacker, less sophisticated than the satire and circumlocutions of Sir Humphrey, were still appreciated by the audience and offered a reprise from the heavy jargon ridden humour. Funny mannerisms and quirks accompanied Bernard’s changing loyalty also offered a more accessible branch of comedy.
There is humour to be found for every taste in comedy and every type of person both young and old, those exposed to the original TV series or not, those up to date on their politics and those more apathetic. Yes, Prime Minister is a fantastic example of British comedy at its best.