Minister of laughs

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A theatre show which brings to life a TV classic is heading to the region. Katy Wheeler chats to one of its stars.

DURING the 80s, Bafta award-winning comedy Yes Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister, won the hearts of critics and audiences with its satirical take on Whitehall.

More recently, a stage adaptation by the show’s original writers has been wowing theatre audiences.

Following three sell-out West End runs, the production of Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay’s play is heading to Durham in April on its final regional tour.

During the show, as the coalition beds in, but with little hope of harmony, Prime Minister Jim Hacker is struggling to keep international troubles at bay.

To add to squabbles over the collapsing Euro and the push for greater austerity, he is now faced with a moral dilemma caused by dubious diplomatic demands. Meanwhile, Sir Humphrey is in favour of greater austerity for ordinary people, but not for senior civil servants.

Stepping into the shoes of Sir Humphrey, played on TV by Nigel Hawthorne, is Crispin Redman, who is best known as recurring character Judge Rory Richards in Law and Order: UK.

Speaking about what attracted him to the role, he said: “Sir Humphrey is a national treasure, an icon, so you wouldn’t refuse a role like that.

“I was a great fan of the show as a teenager. I remember it was one of the only things my parents would record on their VCR.”

He added: “I’m not clever enough to mimic another actor. But the writing is so specific that it takes you in a certain direction.

“You can’t forget Nigel Hawthorne as he did such an excellent job, but you have to have him in the background and do your own thing.”

The story has been brought up to date with modern references. There are modern references: we have the Euro now,” explained Crispin. “But much of it is the same. Europe is still a thorn in the Government’s side and the battle between civil servants and governments and who is master is still played out on the front of our newspapers today.

“I saw the play in London and I’ve never seen an audience laugh so much, it’s very funny. There are some great gags that are beautifully executed.”

The success of the stage production, which premiered in 2010, resulted in new episodes of Yes, Prime Minister being commissioned for television.

These were recorded starring the original West End actors David Haig as Prime Minister Jim Hacker and Henry Goodman as Sir Humphrey Appleby and are being aired on UK Gold.

Speaking about the story’s popularity, Crispin, who has also appeared on TV shows New Tricks and Endeavour, said: “I believe there is a tradition of the cunning servant and the hapless, vain master that dates back to 16th century plays.

“What the writers have cleverly done is to put that in the context of a Prime Minister and a cabinet secretary. There is also the class thing, that juxtaposition of classes that plays out much like Dad’s Army.”

* Yes, Prime Minister is at Durham Gala Theatre from April 16-20. Tickets are £25 (£23 for concessions) from Tel. 332 4041.