Theatre review: Tea, Prime Minister

Posted on: 30 September 2010 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews the clever political satire Tea, Prime Minister at the Geielgud Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Clever political satire seems to have disappeared from our television screens since the demise of that hugely popular comedy series Yes Minister, partly I suspect because politicians are the best people to bring ridicule on themselves as the recent expenses scandal all too clearly proved.

Now though the hit BBC series has come to the West End in a hilarious new version entitled Yes, Prime Minister, written specifically for the stage by original writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, the latter who also directs. The play has moved to the Gielgud Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue following a sell-out season at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

The action takes place in a beautifully furnished Chequers (set design by Simon Higlett), the country residence of the Prime Minister, and Jim Hacker, the PM, and Sir Humphrey Appleby, Cabinet Secretary, are back, this time facing a country in financial meltdown - the Government is hanging out by a thread, the Cabinet is in revolt and the pound is plummeting. But a solution to the crisis is offered by one of the newly independent former Russian republics, Kumranistan, which has discovered oil and is now willing to provide a ten trillion dollar loan. However when the Foreign Minister arrives he presents Jim Hacker with a moral dilemma - his country will only agree to the loan if he procures an underage schoolgirl for him to have sex. What should Jim Hacker do: agree and be put in the doghouse by the press and the public or turn down the offer and face the escalating crisis?

Jay and Lynn here bring the comedy bang up to date, immersing us in the governing world of financial crisis, the global warming debate, the baffling latter-day Bysantium of the European Union, the politics of oil and the instability of countries whose names end in ‘stan’. The BlackBerry has replaced the telephone, let alone the Civil Service messenger as the prime means of communication, the fear of the Daily Mail outstrips any anxieties about the Parliamentary Opposition and yet the old magic is still the same - Humphrey’s interminable and obfuscatory soliloquies never fail to dazzle and baffle whatever the episode or anxiety that triggers them.

This indeed is a play which manages to be both sharp and witty, as exemplified by the remarks “Prime Minister is the only job that requires no previous experience” and “I’m all in favour of elections providing the right people do the voting”.

Of course no production of Yes, Prime Minister would be as much fun or convince so fully without the right cast and here it is spot on, in particular the two leads David Haig and Henry Goodman as Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby respectively, the former prone to panic as the situation deteriorates and the latter scheming and restrained with the ability to come up with the right solutions. Jonathan Slinger as the harassed Bernard Woolley, Principal Private Secretary, Emily Joyce as Claire Sutton, a Special Policy Advisor, and a bearded Sam Dastor as the public school educated Kumranistan Ambassador and friend of Sir Humphrey, also turn in creditable performances.

By Laurence Green

Where: Gielgud Theatre

When: plays until 15 January

Box Office: 0844 482 5130

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