Review: Yes, Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios ★★

Famously starting life as a TV sitcom, Yes, Prime Minister follows the endeavours of incompetent Prime Minister Jim Hacker and manipulative civil servant, Sir Humphrey. The stage version, by original writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, presents Jim Hacker as head of a coalition government in crisis. His evening deteriorates when his final hope, foreign minister of the fictional ‘Kumranistan’, asks for three prostitutes for the night or he will pull out of a deal worth trillions.

After a snappy opening, the energy dies and laughter is replaced by frustratingly monotonous characters. Robert Daws’ Hacker is whining, screechy and unlikeable, while Michael Simkins’ appropriately patronising Humphrey is more abrasive than droll. Emily Bruni as Hacker’s advisor, Claire Stutton, initially has a strong presence, but this fades. The performances become more wooden as the evening drags on, eventually becoming so farcical that the crucial sense of realism is lost.

There are a few witty moments and some well-written sequences, especially Sir Humphrey’s verbose monologues

This updated version, including only passing reference to the coalition amongst a scattering of supposedly contemporary allusions, unfortunately feels mechanical and forced rather than spontaneous. The main subject matter – sleaze and power-hungry civil servants – is rather out-dated and although the introduction of the blunt spin-doctor Claire Sutton creates an effective foil for Sir Humphrey, their predictable relationship ultimately fails to add a new dimension.

There are a few witty moments and some well-written sequences, especially Sir Humphrey’s verbose monologues, though it tends toward being hackneyed. The limited, pedestrian material means the actors can do nothing more than hammer at the same note on which they began. The over-egged plot lacks contemporary relevance and the biting political satire of the original BBC sitcom is sorely missing. Perhaps it is time, following two West End runs and a national tour, to call it a day.

** (2 stars)
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1 Comment

  1. This play was mildly amusing in the beginning then turned into one very long and horrendous joke. The actors went from from loud to a constant fortissimo–especially the PM, but early in the second half I was deeply offended by making a joke of trafficked women and left. This is not a funny subject. Young women and girls are being trafficked all over the world and to even suggest this is funny is more profoundly offensive to me–and should be to everyone–than I can even express. I would like my money returned.

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