Yes Prime Minister is an effective piece of tribute theatre that will please many. This in part thanks to clever casting: Philip Quast captures the oily pomposity of Sir Humphrey beautifully, Caroline Craig exudes crispness and vocal energy as Special Policy Adviser to Mark Owen-Taylor’s appealingly browbeaten PM Jim Hacker and John Lloyd Fillingham is adept as the hapless Bernard.
Sir Humphrey’s virtuosity with convoluted obfuscatory speeches to achieve his personal ends drew applause from the delighted audience. Similarly, the spectacle of Private Secretary, Bernard (Fillingham) fielding invasive calls using pre-prepared replies was both gloriously absurd and strangely familiar to anyone who has spent much time listening to politicians. As Director General of the BBC (“like a second opposition”) Tony Lllewellyn-Jones brought self-interest masked as national concern to exuberant life. Lighting design by Keith Tucker, serviceable throughout – provided a magnificent moment at a crucial point.
Programme size often indicates (in inverse proportion) the complexity or otherwise of a production. Mid-way, the nostalgic reassurance of familiarity started to emit formulaic creaks – particularly around the unbelievable plot twist turning PM and advisers into procurers for the Kumranistan Ambassador (Alex Menglet), who prefers schoolgirls.
Despite references to contemporary Europe, this incarnation of Yes Prime Minister struggles to offer much to a 21st century audience. At its best, the show offers the impolitic truth that people continue to be fallible – something that theatre has room to recognise but which politics struggles with.