Ooook! Productions’ last play of the year, Yes, Prime Minister, is an excellently-paced political satire which is decidedly a triumph for the production team, technical crew, and cast.
The action takes place mainly over a single evening and night, when the Prime Minister and his civil servants and Special Policy Advisor are gathered at Chequers to prevent a number of crises. As EU debt spirals out of control and with it the UK economy, the PM is presented with a tantalizing yet deceptive solution from the Kumranistani government. In the ensuing hilarity filled to the brim with witty repartees, the team of four struggles to bring about a resolution which will keep them their jobs and save the country from collapse.
This play however is not a simple replica of the popular 1980s TV series. It is updated to offer the audience a recognizable power dynamic which we can now witness in British politics. Hamish Inglis (PM Jim Hacker) presents a Prime Minister who is at once helpless as another cog in the machine and also heavy-handed as he appears as a more presidential figure. However, the play, if biting, is by no means a true-to-fact representation, and meanders from the satirical into the farcical. One of the particularly memorable moments is arguably the PM wailing, while clutching the leg of a table in frustration. Worthy of note also is the cast’s ability, when they manage to elicit particularly uproarious bouts of laughter in this manner, to remain in character while it is over, thereby only strengthening the dramatic illusion.
Andrew Shires (Sir Humphrey Appleby) and Abigail Weinstock (Bernard Woolley) present the audience with contrasting representations of what it means to be a civil service employee. Shires is a stern and perpetually irritated man, while Bernard is always willing to serve the needs of the PM or what he perceives to be the ‘good of the country’. Both are consistently excellent in their characterization and Weinstock is additionally deserving of praise for her ability to make the audience suspend their disbelief about her gender. However it is doubtful whether this is particularly necessary, as with a very minor adjustment to some verbal quips in the script the character could have easily been renamed as ‘Bernadette’ and the effort on the part of audience would have been rendered unnecessary. Zoe Coxon, as Special Policy Advisor Claire Sutton, although lacking a role which demands attention, appears to effortlessly fulfill it.
The set is incredibly detailed and yet not restrictive to the movements of the actors, who manage to naturally fill the stage. Particularly thoughtful is the use of a window in the set which indicates the particular time and weather. The creation of this imaginative experience is complemented by the tech. Although the phone can occasionally ring a little too loud and thereby unnaturally, this is a minor defect which is more than compensated for by the impeccable timing. The only real qualm that one may have with the production is the transitions between each scene. Although they are quick, the transitions between scenes and the one indicative of the interval are not clearly differentiated. This means that the audience can be left unsure of whether to expect another scene, and due to this lack of clarity it means that the full force of the culmination of the production is not fully felt.
All in all, this is a must-see piece, particularly in a General Election year. As the actors begin to settle into their roles, renouncing their inhibitions, so they may perform the political ‘private act, done publicly’ in the manner of Stanislavsky, the play really falls into stride. If the first-night is only to be improved on in subsequent performances, then this production is plainly a success and simply unmissable.
Until Fri 19 June at The Assembly Rooms.
Photo: Samuel Kirkman