Yes, Prime Minister (tour - Canterbury, Marlowe Theatre)
In this new story, Jim Hacker (Graham Seed) is now the leader of a shaky coalition government in the middle of a global economic crisis with Sir Humphrey Appleby (Michael Simkins) attempting to finagle a £10 trillion loan from the (fictional) South Asian country Kumranistan. The players all have Blackberrys and the PM's Chequers office has a flatscreen TV.
However despite the update, ambition and political ineptitude – the touchstones of the original Yes, Prime Minister – are still the driving forces. Bernard Woolley (Clive Hayward), the PM's Principal Private Secretary is still around, but this time he is joined by glamorous yet practical Special Policy Advisor Claire Sutton, played by Polly Maberley.
Talks about the loan seem to be going well, but proceedings become grubbier when it transpires that the Kumranistan minister will only go through with the deal if Bernard can provide him with an underage prostitute. Not a virgin though – he's not a monster.
This is where the somewhat sedate political satire starts to build into a farce, with Hacker unravelling as his morals come into conflict with his career aspirations. This is also the point at which Seed finds his feet. More than an hour into a production, this shouldn't be the case, but until Act Two, Seed is disappointing to a level approaching off-putting.
Stilted and workmanlike, it feels as though he's just going through the motions with no real idea of who his character is, and he repeatedly stumbles over lines which kills the momentum of the quick-fire back-and-forth exchanges between Hacker and Sir Humphrey. After the interval, however, he is a different person altogether, and Hacker becomes a flailing Blair-Cameron hybrid and starts to match the standard set by the rest of the cast.
Simkins slips into Sir Humphrey's skin to perfection and commands both the stage and his sometimes impenetrable dialogue with panache, while the addition of Claire Sutton is a good move in updating an otherwise all-male cast strong piece of casting (great fun can be had by watching her reactions during periods where she has no lines).
Given the matter of child prostitution, it's not surprising that the show becomes quite serious at times, and one of the most impressive and affecting scenes involves Hacker, Humphrey and the others arguing with the Kumranistan ambassador over who has the most moral society: the one which permits sex with teenagers, or the one that indiscriminately kills innocent children in the name of “the greater good”.
It's a brave decision to drop a scene like this into the middle of a comedy, but it's one that pays off. Later we see Hacker struggling with moral dilemmas, but none are handled as smartly as they are here.
Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn have ensured that there is enough of their original series to make sure fans of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister walk away happy, and even those unfamiliar with the series will find much to love – but one can't help but wish the cast was chosen with as much care as the words they are given.