Most students at university (including me) weren’t even born when the TV and radio version of ‘80s hit sitcom ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ was aired. Thus, the opportunity to see the play on stage offers our generation of viewers a carte blanche, with the series now on tour after being a smash hit in London’s West End.
The plot surrounds an emergency weekend at Chequers with the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP, and his closest political aides. With a divided cabinet, the country on the brink of bankruptcy, and a key European Council conference on the verge of collapse, Hacker needs some help from above to rescue his honourable, yet seemingly hopeless, premiership. The answer to his prayers seems to have come in the form of a $10 trillion loan from the oil-rich Asian state Kumranistan, in return for the right to run a pipeline across Europe. However, as seems true of all politics, it sounds too good to be true, and Hacker must navigate his way through a minefield of political obstacles to achieve his goal, and keep the preying media at bay. The nature of these obstacles means that this play certainly isn’t for the politically correct, with a large portion of the script focusing on the need to find an underage prostitute to satisfy the needs of the Kumranistani Foreign Minister. Indeed, the play seems wonderfully crafted to appeal to the conservative political tastes of the British middle class, with illegal immigrants, European Union bashing, financial scandal, and the apparent route of all evil – ‘global warming’ – all making appearances.
There are various moments in the performance where one can easily imagine a chaotic Gordon Brown acting in a somewhat similar hectic environment. However, whilst highly amusing, the ludicrous trials and tribulations which follow Jim Hacker, are mere window dressing for the real thrust of the play – the delicate balance of power between the elected Prime Minister, and the unelected Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby . Sir Humphrey’s character underlines the belief that those who crave real power in British politics should aspire to the upper echelons of the civil service. The role of the influential Cabinet Secretary is played by Simon Williams, who brilliantly coveys a sense Machiavellian cunning, whilst retaining the impeccable manners and Queen’s English which mirrors the old-school tie image of the Civil Service.
The play’s writers, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn (and author’s of the original TV hit), have created a spectacle which perfectly complements the other successful political sitcom of recent times, ‘The Thick of It’ by Armando Iannucci. Whilst ‘The Thick of It’ (and the subsequent film ‘In The Loop’), covers the relationship between individual Cabinet Ministers and their political aides, the strength of ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ is that is covers the life of the man at the very top. This adds a somewhat macabre undertone to the play as it really sinks home that our lives are governed by politicians whose only qualifications are that they are elected, and civil servants who are accountable to nobody.
For those seeking an enjoyable evening out, this play offers a-laugh-a-minute value, whilst for those who consider themselves to have highly attuned political antennae, the play offers a compelling case for the decentralisation of power. Either way, this play is a must see for all of those with even the slightest interest in politics and current affairs, whilst the affordable ticket price makes this the perfect alternative to a night-out.
‘Yes, Prime Minister’ is coming to the Nottingham Theatre Royal between 21st-26th March.
Tickets can be bought at: www.yesprimeminister.co.uk
Will Bickford Smith