People’s Theatre, Newcastle.
The original BBC series’ ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ are widely considered as genuine comedy classics, and so a brand new up-to-date stage version was greatly anticipated when it first opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2010, subsequently embarking upon a West End run and a national tour the following year.
The original writers, Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay, reunited to produce the script and showed they have lost none of their sharp-eyed political and satirical observation, nor their consummate skill in penning tremendous verbal tirades. This modern take on Whitehall – set entirely at the Prime Minister’s country residence Chequers – sees PM Jim Hacker and his Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby spinning out of control through the collapsing Euro and austerity measures in a world of 24 hour news, Blackberrys and ‘sexed up’ dossiers.
Steve Hewitt and Roger Liddle are clearly having a great deal of fun in the roles made famous by Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne. As PM Jim Hacker, Hewitt blunders around the stage getting more and more agitated as the situation he finds himself in spirals out of his control, while Liddle’s Sir Humphrey remains still and calm in the centre of it all, as he runs verbal rings around his boss. Perhaps it was first night nerves – added to what must be a very challenging task of getting one’s tongue around the verbal demands of a Lynn/Jay script – which resulted in a few occasions where the actors stumbled over or seemingly forgot what they were saying, which unfortunately affected the pace of the piece. However, the ball was never dropped completely, and they did an admirable job of maintaining their concentration for two and a half hours.
Sean Burnside’s performance as the PM’s private secretary Bernard is spot on. He avoids the temptation to play over the top for laughs, instead letting the script do all the work for him. His performance is very natural and believable, and he seems most at ease in his surroundings.
Supporting performances are from Geffen Yoeli-Rimmer, Andrew De’Ath, Stuart Laidler, Rachel Scott, and Matthew Hope.
The set looks good and the staging works well enough. The direction is a little safe, but the production as a whole is faithful to the original and does enough to entertain a brand new audience while still evoking fond memories of the original BBC episodes.
(originally posted 22 April 2015)