You may have thought you had seen the last of Prime Minister Jim Hacker. But, like many politicians, he has bounced back for a second bite of the cherry, with his long-standing Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby at his side.
The 1980s sitcom Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister retain a special place in the hearts of many of a certain age who chuckled at its satirical depiction of politicians and their relationship with civil servants. Now, 30 years after the first episode, the creators of the TV series, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, have taken the risk of bringing the same characters to the stage in a new, contemporary story.
In fact, they have packed so many modern references into the play that it is hard to keep track. The Euro, the failing economy, global warming, religion, BBC spending, the UK’s relationship with America: all these themes rear their heads in a play that is attempting to be right on the money. Even Robert Harris’s recent novel about a former Prime Minister writing his memoirs, The Ghost, makes an appearance on Hacker’s desk.
The crux of the play hangs on a theme that one would hope has no roots in real-life contemporary politics, but you never know. Hacker – now leader of the coalition – and Appleby are at Chequers and must deal with the seedy request of a visiting foreign politician who is crucial to an economy-saving deal. Will Hacker accede to the immoral demand in order to save his political skin? This rather insalubrious plotline adds a darker dimension to the familiar scenario which may be alien to fans of the TV series.
Nevertheless, the comedy calibre is kept high by two masters of farce: David Haig and Henry Goodman recreate the cat-and-mouse relationship between politician Hacker and civil servant Appleby, whose often competing agendas result in bluff and blunder. Goodman in particular captures a distinct flavour of the TV series with his Nigel Hawthorne-esque portrayal of Appleby, whose clipped vowels and verbose speeches reveal his innate pomposity. Jonathan Slinger adopts a wimpy physicality to play the hapless, nerdy Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley, a man of morals caught between the self-serving game-playing of his superiors.
But for this stage play Jay and Lynn – who also directs – have added a fourth dimension to the trio of the original TV series, Special Policy Advisor Claire Sutton (Emily Joyce). She places their creation firmly in the 21st century by adding not only a female presence but a heavy layer of Alistair Campbell-inspired spin to the tale.
Incredibly, the writers manage to resolve the story and tie up its many themes in a neat finale that is aided by a Jeremy Paxman impersonator (Tim Wallers), a contemporary reference that goes down well with the audience. But fans of the TV show will be pleased to know that the play ends in the traditional manner, as it must, with the words ‘Yes, Prime Minister’.