Yes, Prime Minister – January 2012

7/10

By Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn

Directed by Jonathan Lynn and Tim Hoare

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Tuesday 31st January 2012

Nice to see this one again. Although it’s a touring production they’re getting a couple of weeks in Chichester, where the play premiered last year, before heading off round the country. We saw it twice last year, and really enjoyed it – how would this version fare?

The set was almost identical to last year’s; the only change I noticed was the removal of the trailing greenery around the edge of the stage – a practical necessity for a touring production. The post-show chat confirmed that the script had been revised, and it certainly seemed tighter than last year although I couldn’t name any specific changes. It did seem to flow better, though whether that was the changes or our familiarity I can’t say.

The performances were very good for so early in the run. Graham Seed was wonderfully scatty as the Prime Minister, and although he seemed to stumble over his lines occasionally, he could get away with it given this characterisation. Michael Simkins, whom we remember fondly from A Small Family Business many years ago at the National, was very good as Sir Humphrey, and both of his set speeches were warmly applauded. His gravitas combined with his comic timing were a perfect foil for the PM.

Clive Woodward gave us another good performance as Bernard Woolley, and was suitably naïve as well as erudite; Sir Humphrey has a lot of exposition in the early stages, and Bernard is his excuse for all of that. Polly Maberly was good as the SPAD, Claire, and Sam Dastor reprised his role as the Kumranistan ambassador very entertainingly. Tim Wallers, the ersatz Paxman, was strongly reminiscent of the man himself, and Tony Boncza was fine as the Director General of the BBC (but was this part trimmed since last year?).

The post-show was unusually low-key tonight and we had to be quick as the stage crew needed to strike the set for a concert tomorrow. The three leads and Tim Hoare, the associate director, came and chatted with us for a while. They felt the history of the TV version was largely irrelevant as they had to find their own ways to play the parts, but the TV characters hovered in the background providing some guidelines; as Michael Simkins put it, he wouldn’t get away with playing Sir Humphrey as Arthur Mullard. They found the Chichester stage demanding, as usual, and not entirely suited to farce, although you do get a good connection with the audience compared to a pros arch. The problems with hearing the dialogue were mentioned, and the actors agreed this was an issue in this sort of space; even though Chichester uses a subtle form of sound enhancement, it’s hard to get a balance that will work for everyone.

They were asked if it was distracting having a sign language interpreter working beside them for the signed performances. Not after the first minute or so, they said, although there was the danger of becoming too interested in what was being signed and forgetting what you were meant to do. They start blocking for the pros arch stages tomorrow, and from the sound of it they’re all looking forward to the tour. Despite our small numbers, we were very appreciative, and went away happy with our evening. This is an enjoyable revival, and I hope they have a great time on tour.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Yes, Prime Minister – May 2010

8/10

By Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn

Directed by Jonathan Lynn

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 13th May 2010

Opening night! First performance! And they did it very well. Our overall impression was that the piece is pretty good but a little uneven, and tonight’s experience should help them make the necessary adjustments.

The set made good use of the vast plains of the main stage. Representing the PM’s study at Chequers, there were doors to the left and right of centre, one being integrated into the bookcases along the right hand wall. A sofa and chair were left and centre, the PM’s desk was in front of the bookcases, and there was a shaped window seat to our right, fitting nicely in with the design of the edge of the stage, which showed the outside of the building – path, flowers, etc. Between the doors at the back was a large window, with autumnally-coloured trees seen through it. The storm effects included real wet stuff, fortunately confined to the exterior locations.

The plot concerned a possible oil deal with a fictitious -stan, which thanks to the topsy-turvy world of international finance, would mean Europe getting the dosh now, so they could afford to buy the oil later. Or something like that. Basically, it was a multi-trillion bribe to lock European states into paying a higher price for this state’s oil in the future. With the PM absolutely gagging for it (the deal, that is), the only snag seems to be a request from the -stani foreign minister for a pre-defiled schoolgirl, under our age of consent, for a spot of post-dinner ravishing. The moral, political and practical dilemmas this request poses are thoroughly explored through the second half, and include a prayer session, the aforementioned storm, an illegal immigrant working as a cook at Chequers, a live interview on the BBC, and the Royal helicopter. Nuff said.

Of course, that’s only the bare bones of the evening’s entertainment, with topical references skittering across the stage so fast I probably missed a few. And the perennial problems of being the man in charge got the usual airing as well. One of my favourite bits was when the PM has a despairing rant about all the woes that afflict him (Job had it easy), culminating in the final straw, global warming, whereupon his head sank onto the back of a chair. Mind you, there were plenty of other lines that got a great response from the audience. After the uncertainties of recent weeks, I suspect we were all ready to let off steam, and this was the perfect opportunity. This is the area that’s most likely to be updated, as events at Westminster and Downing Street unfold, while Sir Humphrey’s elaborate monologues, explaining in ‘simple’ terms the complexities of some subtle point of the art of government, will no doubt be untouched. Henry Goodman as Sir Humphrey did an excellent job delivering these speeches, and if the people behind us had been quieter I would have enjoyed them even more. Jonathan Slinger played Bernard with the right degree of innocence, classical education, and moral indignation, while Emily Joyce did her best with the part of Special Policy Advisor, but I felt her lines didn’t get as many laughs as the others. Sam Dastor did a very nice job as the -stani ambassador – from him we learned that Sir Humphrey’s nickname at Oxford was ‘Bubbles’ – and William Chubb and Tim Wallers were fine as the BBC Director General and a mock Jeremy Paxman.

Teamwork notwithstanding, the honours for tonight, by the narrowest of majorities, must go to David Haig as the PM, Jim Hacker. He covered the whole range of emotions, posturing like a strong leader one minute, and then collapsing into wimp mode the next. I especially liked his response to Sir Humphrey telling him he’s been courageous – ‘have I?’ he says, sinking onto the window seat full of worry and concern.

The issue of under-age prostitution was stronger stuff than we’re used to from this team, and I felt a bit uncomfortable for a while, but the writing focused on the responses of the various characters, and the humour of that soon got me involved again. A few people did leave during the interval, but on the whole, we’re looking forward to seeing this again in a few weeks.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me