Posted by: Natalie | June 6, 2011

Yes, Prime Minister

On Saturday we went once again to Birmingham Hippodrome – what exactly shall I do without this wonderful theatre when I move up North?! I suppose living equidistant from Manchester and Liverpool will have to do! This weekend we celebrated, a little belatedly, the lovely Laura’s birthday with tickets to the matinee of Yes, Prime Minister. Written by the original writers of the outstanding 80’s TV and radio series (Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn), the award winning theatre show transports the self-preserving, puppeteer Sir Humphrey and his slightly bumbling PM, Jim Hacker, into a modern context with the same strong wit as ever.

For anyone unaware of the BBC original, each episode sees the Prime Minster (formerly the Rt Hon MP) negotiate tricky political contradictions and man-traps in an attempt to accomplish greatness. In reality, nothing actually gets accomplished as the PM recognises his hands seem permanently tied by jurisdiction, manipulation and these bloody laws of the land that keep getting in the way! The real manipulator is Sir Humphrey, the Permanent Secretary, the epitome of the civil service stereotype, only out for his own gains and methods of holding the governmental reigns a few years longer; a silver tongued weasel who can manoeuvre his way in and out of any situation presented.

This slightly high-brow situation comedy (I loathe to actually call it a sit-com due to the intelligence required to follow both dialogue and plot – well, at least more intelligence than is required to sit throughTwo Pints of Lager, that is my idea of torture-by-tv) moves perfectly onto the stage. In this incarnation, the core of the current government rest at Chequerswith officials and diplomats from Kumranistan – a country proposing THE answer to all of Europe’s financial problems. For once our PM seems vaguely in control, he has his own form of blackmail to ensure that Britain’s demands are met (despite Humphrey’s attempts to skew the truth) – that is until the Kumranistani Government official makes his own, personal, highly immoral request. The plight of the the Prime Minister, the government, the country and the whole of the EU rest on this one decision – should the PM openly break laws, both legal and moral, to save everything? To be the saviour? To be one of history’s greats? The flip flopping of conversations and tactics is hilarious – and certainly allows room for one to develop their vocabulary!

Simon Williams as Sir Humphrey Appleby and Richard McCabe as Jim Hacker, Prime Minister. Both fabulous!

You can actually well imagine these issues raising their ugly heads in the real world. Whether this current theatre tour or the original 80’s shows, the political arguments raised are very poignant and ultimately timeless. Looking back through some of the YouTube clips, you realise quickly that governments, good, bad and ugly, seem to have been debating the same points since time began; the stance on Europe, Nuclear weaponry, oil, unemployment, education, environment and always, always, how to stay in power – keeping the voters in line and happy. The political acrobatics necessary just to survive the day-to-day running of the country and the onslaught of criticism from all quarters are phenomenal (rivalling any Britain’s Got Talent competitor), and potentially ridiculous in their quantity and type. The hoops jumped through by Humphrey and Hacker are seemingly outrageous and bizarre, but probably, more than likely, startlingly realistic.

Very clever, very funny and very now. A truly brilliant play which makes one feel very grown up – no singing puppets here! Below I have posted a YouTube clip from the original TV series, one which I feel is quite reflective considering the plight of much of the world and our position within the melee. Also, the second much shorter clip shows the original Sir Humphrey Appleby (Sir Nigel Hawthorne) doing what politicians do best – using A LOT of words to say absolutely nothing at all! A regular feature in the show.

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