Friday, May 21, 2010

‘Yes, Prime Minister’ by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn

21 May 2010

We returned to the main house at Chichester Festival Theatre for the opening night of ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ – a new play by the writers of the original BBC sitcom, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. David Haig and Henry Goodman took on the roles of Prime Minister Jim Hacker and Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby in a story which brought the action up-to-date with Hacker the leader of a coalition government in a hung parliament attempting to deal with a massive recession. There was some good fun to be had with the real political theatre of the previous few days with the insertion of a few last-minute gags, but in the main this was an enjoyable nostalgia trip back to the glory days of ‘Yes, Minister’. All the familiar elements were present – Sir Humphrey’s lengthy, erudite, obfuscating soliloquies (all the more impressive delivered live and flawlessly by Henry Goodman) and the naïve bewilderment of private secretary Bernard Woolley (here played by Jonathan Slinger). The addition of a modern ‘special advisor’ (played by Emily Joyce) and a few references to Blackberrys didn’t really alter the feeling that we were back in the 1980s. It felt like ‘The Thick of It’ had never happened (despite David Haig having appeared in the latest series). But it was good fun and there was a carefully constructed plot which made it feel like a proper 2-hour play. Haig and Goodman were both excellent but with neither attempting (quite correctly) any sort of impersonation of Paul Eddington or Nigel Hawthorne, I wondered why it was necessary to retain the original characters in this updated setting. I think the play would have worked as well with Haig as a different Prime Minister and Goodman as another variant on the long-serving civil servant (‘Sir Rupert’, perhaps). And I would have loved to see the two actors cast against type with David Haig as the civil servant and Henry Goodman as the politician.

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