Hit West End show Yes, Prime Minister is to make its North East debut at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.
We speak to A-list stage star Simon Williams about why the political comedy is winning the audiences’ vote.
ACERBIC wit and sharply-observed political humour earned Yes, Prime Minister a cult following when it ran as a BBC sitcom from 1986 to 1988.
Fast-forward more than twenty years and it’s been lovingly revived for the stage by the original writers, Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay, with lots of contemporary references thrown into the mix.
Set in the Prime Minister’s Offices at Number 10, the play follows idealistic PM Jim Hacker (Richard McCabe) and bureaucracy-loving Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Simon Williams) as they contemplate a country in financial meltdown.
The only prospect of salvation comes from morally dubious allies – leading to deliciously comic consequences.
“I was a fan of the show, but when I watched it on TV I never dreamed that I would be stepping into Sir Humphrey Appleby’s shoes,” explained Simon, who shot to fame playing James Bellamy in period drama Upstairs, Downstairs.
He added:“I think there is something funny about him. In such a typically English way, he never says what he means. You can see what he’s up to though, he’s such a wicked man. He’s always plotting something.”
The stage play was devised to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Jay and Lynn’s original Bafta Award winning TV series Yes, Minister, which first aired on BBC2 in 1980 and ran until 1984 and of which Yes, Prime Minister is a sequel.
Putting TV hits on the stage can prove a gamble, but it’s one that’s paid off with Yes, Prime Minister, which has received both critical and public acclaim.
Speaking about the show’s charm, Simon said: “Politicians are all a bunch of absolute rogues. Always feathering their nests and talking in a language they think we don’t understand.
“But they need to have the finger pointed at them, they are like head masters, sometimes they need cutting down to size and people find this very funny.
“I think that is why the show sells out. I have never heard laughter like it. It’s two hours of laughter and wit.”
As well as roles as Dr Charles Cartwright in Don’t Wait Up and as Sir Charles Merrick in medical drama Holby City, Simon is well loved for his role in ’70s classic Upstairs, Downstairs which depicted the lives of the servants “downstairs” and their masters “upstairs” in a London townhouse.
At Christmas, a re-make of the hit was shown on BBC starring Keeley Hawes.
“It was forty years ago, so it’s not very fresh in my mind,” explained Simon. “It was odd watching the programme as the person playing me was younger than my son.
“It’s funny watching the show. It’s like going back to an old house or meeting up with an old girlfriend. Hearing that theme tune again is very nostalgic.”
As well enjoying a successful TV career, Simon has appeared on stage in numerous productions, most recently in David Hare’s production of The Power of Yes at the National Theatre.
But the seasoned actor doesn’t mind juggling the stage with the screen.
“I don’t care what it is. I just love being part of story telling and making people laugh. People sit and watch TV on their own though. There is something lovely about going to the theatre and sitting there laughing and crying with people from your community. It makes you fell connected to the world.”
l Yes, Prime Minister appears at Newcastle Theatre Royal from February 22-26. Tickets are £9.50 to £31, and can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21, or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk