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Review Round-up: Ayes or Noes for Prime Minister?

By • West End
Yes, Prime Minister, which is adapted from the classic TV sitcom by original scriptwriters Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn (who also directs), has transferred to the West End’s Gielgud Theatre following its sell-out run at the Chichester Festival Theatre earlier this year (See Review Round-up, 25 May 2010).

The show, which is set in the contemporary political landscape, stars David Haig and Henry Goodman as Prime Minister Jim Hacker and Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby who, along with Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley (Jonathan Slinger), face a country in financial meltdown, with the only prospect of salvation coming from morally dubious allies.

Yes, Prime Minister opened last Monday (27 September 2010, previews from 17 September) and is currently booking to 15 January 2011. There follows a selection of overnight and weekend critical reaction...


  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (two stars) - "David Haig, apoplectic and down-at-heel as the PM, and Henry Goodman, pop-eyed and oily as Sir Humphrey, do an excellent job in bearing no resemblance at all to their much loved, much subtler predecessors in the television series, Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne ... Lynn’s broad production has coarsened still further since Chichester; the playing has acquired a desperation that stifles laughter ... Despite all the references to a hung parliament, European legislation, global warming and fear of the Daily Mail, the play seems more old-fashioned and remote than an Aldwych farce. But if you’ve not seen Haig going demented with frustration before, and banging his own head on the furniture, you should probably catch his performance before he explodes."

  • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (four stars) - "In this welcome new instalment of the award-winning comedy from original writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Hacker finds himself the leader of an embattled minority government struggling to cope with the fallout from the financial crisis ... Goodman is all suave machinations and verbosity as Sir Humphrey, whereas the demands of our voracious 24-hour news culture are driving Haig’s Hacker increasingly - sometimes excessively - apoplectic ... Jonathan Lynn directs the escalating mayhem with assurance and even though the Kumranistani dilemma drags occasionally before being resolved too glibly and swiftly, there’s a delightful stream of one-liners to sustain dramatic tempo and audience spirits."

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) - "For reasons that escape me, this updated stage version of the beloved TV sitcom received some grudging reviews when it opened in Chichester last May. I can only report that the show reduced me to helpless hilarity then, and did so all over again now it has transferred to the West End ... The show’s writers, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, are as bang on the money as ever, while those superb actors David Haig and Henry Goodman make the roles of the PM and his cabinet secretary, formerly played by the much-missed Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, entirely their own ... Admirably topical – Hacker is hanging on by his fingernails in a coalition government with the economy in ruins – the show is nearer the knuckle than the TV version ... My only real complaint is that the character of the PM’s special adviser (Emily Joyce) is so unpersuasively written."

  • Mark Shenton in the Sunday Express (three stars) - "You can buy the box set of the entire original TV series of Yes, Prime Minister for £14.97 on Amazon, or you can shell out up to £52.50 to see a strange stage hybrid ... David Haig and Henry Goodman do heroic work to bring the characters back to life but while Jonathan Lynn (who also directs) and Antony Jay, who co-wrote the TV series, have gone to the trouble of coming up with a new plot, they have to make it stretch across two hours instead of 30 minutes and the strain shows. There’s a distasteful attempt to up the stakes by having the plot, which concerns the PM’s attempts to finesse a $10trillion loan, pivot on a request from the lender’s foreign minister to be provided with an underage prostitute. It also turns the play into an abrasive sex comedy instead of a satire on the inner workings of government."

  • Susannah Clapp in the Observer - "It's hard to call Yes, Prime Minister a failure when it is playing (even on Saturday matinees) to full and roaring houses. But Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn's ‘comedy’ has none of the incisiveness of the original telly series ... The feline humour of the exchanges between politician and civil servant has run to flab: ‘A hung parliament? Hanging's too good for them.’ What a waste of a terrific cast. Henry Goodman is a silky, saturnine Sir Humphrey; every seam of David Haig's garments appears to be splitting under the pressure of his prime ministerial tension. Jonathan Slinger's neck has an unnerving floppiness: it's as if his head, stuffed full of Latin tags, is too heavy to hold upright."
  • Jeremy Kingston in The Times (three stars) - “The TV versions were better. The difference is chiefly to do with the principle that less is more. And vice versa. On the small screen Nigel Hawthorne’s suave Sir Humphrey could indicate disapproval with the bat of an eyelash. But in order to register in the back rows of the Gielgud, Henry Goodman’s Sir Humphrey must take a more emphatic course ... Everyone exaggerates, and that includes the co-authors who have turned their subtle comedies into athletic farce ... Hacker’s relationship to Sir Humphrey is summed up by his desperate statement: ‘It’s time I should give some leadership. Tell me what I should do.’ Haig gives him a frenziedly physical character, dashing about the stage, thrusting out his hands like a wicket-keeper terrified of the fast ball, and eventually beating his head on the back of an armchair. I laughed a lot at his antics so I shouldn’t be ungrateful to the play. But I am, really.”

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