REVIEW: Yes, Prime Minister, Gala Theatre, Durham

Crispin Redman, Michael Fenton-Stevens and Indra Ov� star in the Yes Prime Minister UK tour.
Crispin Redman, Michael Fenton-Stevens and Indra Ov� star in the Yes Prime Minister UK tour.
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THE future of Europe depends on flying three call-girls into Chequers in the Queen’s helicopter to appease the Kurmanistan Foreign Minister.

It’s Yes, Prime Minister, but not as we know it. Though, essentially, it’s just as we know it.

Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn have given their much-loved comedy modern clothes as they take it to the stage.

Prime Minister Jim Hacker (Michael Fenton Stevens) is at the helm of a coalition Government coping with the strains of the Byzantine-esque European Union, the politics of oil and 24-hour news.

At his right hand side is his efficiently-devious, fiercely-intelligent Cabinet Secretary is Sir Humphrey (Crispin Redman), for whom democracy and the Government are merely dim-witted obstacles to be deftly circumvented as the Civil Service do what, in its view, the country doesn’t realise is best for it.

But the modern world brings fresh difficulties for Sir Humphrey too, with BlackBerries, special advisors and the threat of a Civil Service Reform Bill.

But despite its modern dressing and up-to-date references, the production has cleverly managed to retain it’s wonderfully British butter-on-crumpets feel, with the play entirely set in the Prime Minister’s office at Chequers, the PM’s country residence.

Bar a few BlackBerries and modern fashion - not least the attire of slick SPAD (Special Policy Advisor) Claire Sutton (Indra Ove) - visually the production could be set in 1980 when Yes, Minister first screen. Or, indeed, the 1930s.

Jay and Lynn’s script is every bit as funny - if not more so - than the TV series, performed admirably by a cast with big shoes to fill.

It doesn’t take long to settle in to the stage version and be comfortable with a cast bereft of Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds.

Stevens is fantastic as the under-pressure PM and toothed plaything of the civil service, and Redman perfectly captures the devious-yet-ostensibly-helpful air of Sir Humphrye.

Michael Matus portrayal of the PM’s Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley is reminiscent of that of Pierce in The New Statesmen, almost childlike as he attempts to retain his morals while serving both the Hacker and SIr Humphry.

Simon Holmes deserves a mention too for his role as the anglicised ambassador of Kurmanistan, an old friend of Sir Humphrey.

The stage version of Yes, Prime Minister is a shade or two darker than its TV predecessor, however.

The series always showed a cynical side of Government, but the play probes much darker areas, and how laws must be broken and ethics cast aside for the ‘good’ of the country.

Extraordinary rendition, control orders, torture and appeasing barbarous regimes are all acceptable tools for protecting the best interests of the British people.

Perhaps Yes, Prime Minister’s greatest success, then, is managing to keep an audience in stitches while simultaneously showing them there is no hope for mankind.

Ross Robertson