Unlike the friend who I was sitting with, I had never seen the TV version of Yes, Prime Minister on which the Drama Barn’s latest production is based upon. So while I’m unsure as to how it compares with its source, Yes, Prime Minister is both a funny and thought provoking play.
The plot revolves around Prime Minister Jim Hacker MP (Zach Pierce) (whose party affiliations are interestingly never revealed), who has reached political breaking point, with spiralling debt and rising unemployment. Hacker’s dreams however might come true in the form of a $10 trillion loan from Kumranistan to build an oil pipeline across Europe. But when the Kumranistani Foreign Secretary makes an appalling request, Hacker must debate with Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Applebly (Guy Matthews), Personal Private Secretary Bernard Wooley (Jon Derrick), and Special Policy Advisor Claire Sutton (Kate Coulson) on the right future for the country – and themselves.
While I’m unsure as to how it compares with its source, Yes, Prime Minister is both a funny and thought provoking play.
The crux of the play is a fundamentally intriguing and thought provoking question. As posed to our leads by the Kumranistani ambassador (Will Robinson), who are they to deem something considered right by another culture as wrong? In comparing two cultures, when you are part of one of those cultures and an outsider to the other, do you have any right to cast judgement on the other? Who are you to decide normality? And while the example in Yes, Prime Minister may be to an extreme, Hacker and co. spend most of the play trying to reconcile moral considerations with political (read: financial) gain, which again forms an interesting reflection on the morals of modern day politics.
The play itself was packed with ten laughs a minute. Guy Matthews did an absolutely incredible job at delivering puppet-master Sir Humphrey’s verbose and lexically challenging misdirects, and, while Sir Humphrey is a civil servant and not a politician, the speeches effectively satirized the “never giving a straight answer” nature of politics. Zach Pierce’s Hacker showed a great evolution from already flustered to, after a night of drinking and politicking, a desperate man truly on edge.
Despite a few flaws, Yes, Prime Minister in both an intellectually and morally intriguing play
Will Robinson’s heavily rolled R’s as the Kumranistani ambassador also showed real skill, while adding layers to the camp character. Kate Coulson’s Claire Sutton took a no nonsense attitude to her peers, while even Jon Derrick’s Bernard Wooley, ostensibly the timid PPS, progressed to refusing orders and shouting in his boss’ face as his ethics are pushed to the edge.
Compared to some Drama Barn productions Yes, Prime Minister featured a relatively minimalist set of Hacker’s Chequers private study, but it worked well for the production. Unfortunately the light behind the curtain, presumably supposed to represent a window, didn’t really work that well and was a little distracting, and after maintaining a set of genuinely interesting characters without breaking once before, it was a little disappointing and moment-withdrawing to see an extended moment of corpsing midway through the second act. While featuring modern references (it seems to be set during the 2010 coalition), the play also feels like it’s still in the 80s of the source material, and the central debate around prostitution doesn’t play terribly well post #MeToo.
Despite a few flaws, Yes, Prime Minister is both an intellectually and morally intriguing play, delivered comedically by the company. It muses on the corruption of Westminster (especially through Sir Humphrey), and maybe it’s just the pedantic person in me, but I was extremely happy to hear “Yes, Prime Minister” as the final line.
Yes, Prime Minister continues to run in the Drama Barn until the 28th of January. Tickets available on the door.