I was in London last Saturday with some political hacks (and two normal people) to see “Yes, Prime Minister”, a play written by the original creators of the series, Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay. Was it any good? Well, before I answer, a couple of things: It’s a very high risk strategy to try to get actors to play characters who are so clearly identified with other actors, especially if those other actors were nothing short of brilliant. My own feeling is that it would have made more sense to set the play after the Hacker administration.
That’s not to say that the actors aren’t up to the job. Simon Williams as Sir Humphrey is excellent, with just the right mix of haughtiness and cunning. The problem, I thought, was with Hacker, played by Richard McCabe. McCabe works very well with what he has been given, but the writers seem to have forgotten many of the traits that made Hacker so attractive in the past. He was a bit egotistical, and self deluded, and well capable of political self preservation, but one always thought he was essentially a decent man with just enough conscience to occasionally trouble him. Yet this Hacker is far more shallow and, to be honest, a bit sleazy. One subplot, involving the procuring of a child prostitute for a foreign minister, sits very uneasily with the other plots, and reveals a Hacker miles from the charming well-meaning buffoon portrayed by Paul Eddington.
That’s not to say the play is not enjoyable, because it is. There are laugh out loud moments. Many of the old tricks from the TV show are present, including Humphrey’s impenetrable explanations, and the times have been updated with Humphrey now a deft hand with a Blackberry, and Hacker now leading a coalition. McCabe also shows a talent for physical comedy and excellent timing, and does a lovely homage to Paul Eddington when he slips into “Churchillian mode” during a speech. It just would have been more digestible if he wasn’t playing Jim Hacker.
One interesting feature is the EU plot, which basically explains why the Brits as a people are so eurosceptic. Hacker, prime minister of Britain, rails that the EU just hands him instructions that he has no say in whatsoever, which is just a Daily Mail parody of the EU.
Would I recommend it? It is fun, especially for political people, but for the price of the tickets, which aren’t cheap, you might be better off buying the boxset.
Additional: I should also point out that we were in the Gods, and I suspect that experiencing the play closer to the stage may be a more satisfying experience.