Review :: Yes, Prime Minister – Sydney
April 24th 2012
Nick La Rosa
Photo: John Lloyd Fillingham, Mark Owen-Taylor and Philip Quast
Bilbo Baggins once described the mighty task of wearing the One Ring as being “stretched like butter scraped over too much bread”. If Bilbo took time off from ringbearing to see the latest stage rendition of the Yes, Prime Minister television series, I’m sure he’d have much the same to say. At just under two hours, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn have attempted to flog their once shining horse back to the top, killing it in the process.
Taking place at the Prime Minister’s country residence at Chequers, Prime Minister Jim Hacker (Mark Owen-Taylor), Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley (John Lloyd Fillinghan), Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Philip Quast) and Policy Advisor Claire Sutton (Caroline Craig) grapple with an imminent geopolitical crisis involving sovereign debt, the European Union and a randy foreign official holding a rather unsavoury gun to Britain’s head. As per usual.
Aside from a few cracks about Blackberries, the GFC and climate change, this rehashing of the political sitcom to start and end all political sitcoms hardly seemed worth the bother. Transplanting their own seminal characters to 2012 and the brink of European financial collapse, Jay and Lynn have decided to throw the hapless Jim, the hopeless Bernard, and the indefatigable Sir Humphrey through several of the hoops from which they had graciously been spared during the series’ run in the mid-80s, including a lot of chat about sex and underage girls. Original stars Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne must surely be turning in their graves.
What made the original Yes, Prime Minister so wonderful, aside from its ability avoid more vulgar concepts like the above, was how its writers managed to cram an incredible amount of awesome into one 28-minute block. What made this production so abysmal was its insistence that the longer it ran, the funnier it would become. It didn’t. For nearly two hours.
Of course, there are ‘Bernard’ moments and ‘Humphrey’ moments; Jim says the wrong thing and the media do their part, but it’s roughly the same amount of funny as one half-hour episode of the series – spread over a two hour marathon. Every time something funny happened, the pre-hilarity momentum had to be built up all over again, notably after spending five minutes contemplating the moral dilemma of permitting child prostitution for the sake of European fiscal salvation. Yep.
Redeeming features included a truly stunning set and lighting design, acting as good as could be expected from anyone who wasn’t Nigel Hawthorne, Derek Fowlds or Paul Eddington, and some witty tea towels available as merch from the counter near the bar.
Aficionados of the original series are advised to stay home and nurse their boxed sets and memories; this sure as shit is not the show we hoped it would be.
What: YES, PRIME MINISTER
Where: Sydney Theatre
When: 4 April-13 May 2012
How much: $70-$129 from Ticketek (if you go earlier in the week and sit in the back it’s cheaper…)