Friday, 3 February 2012

Yes, Prime Minister, Melbourne, Feb 2, 2012 ***1/2

By Antony Jay & Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Andrew Guild, Simon Bryce & Tim Woods with YPM (International) Ltd. 
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, Feb 2 to March 4, 2012 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 2, 2012 
John Lloyd Fillingham, Mark Owen-Taylor & Philip Quast in Yes, Prime Minister

EVEN IF YOU ARE A DIE-HARD FAN of the original, BBC TV series of Yes, Prime Minister, you may still enjoy this updated, two-hour stage version of that biting political satire of British government.

This Australian production, directed with a dab hand by Tom Gutteridge, may not have Nigel Hawthorne and Paul Eddington, but Philip Quast’s Sir Humphrey is just as supercilious, manipulative, arrogant, deceitful and shamelessly self-promoting as the original.

The audience cheers Quast’s performance of Sir Humphrey’s convoluted, florid arguments as he protects the privileged Civil Service and his own position. 

Mark Owen-Taylor’s Jim Hacker is a youthful, ambitious and fearful PM who manages to score a few points against his smarmy advisor, Humphrey, and finally compromise his position to achieve something useful for his career if not for the country.

Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s stage script is as cunningly wrought as their TV series, incorporating contemporary issues such as global warming, human rights, the European Union, the GFC.

Their story, set at Chequers, hurls Hacker into a moral and political dilemma when he receives an astonishing, illegal request from his guest, a representative of the government of Kumranistan who is about to sign a lucrative loan agreement with Hacker.

John Lloyd Fillingham is a perfect, pedantic, chipmunk-like Bernard Woolley, the PM’s Principal Private Secretary who seeks to be invisible but can’t resist a snipe or an editorial comment but whose Cassandra-like warmings are ignored.

Alex Menglet’s Kumranistani Ambassador is deliciously cool and critical, Tony Llewellyn-Jones’ Director of the BBC is suitably self-serving and affluent. Caroline Craig’s sassy Policy Advisor, Claire Sutton, offers a few laughs when she flings the PM into more hot water.

Although it gets a bit hysterical in the second half and it may not have all the short, sharp quips of a half-hour episode, this production captures the flavour and wit of our favourite UK show and highlights the clandestine, political machinations of any government – including our own.

Shaun Gurton’s design provides a luxurious, realistic, wood-panelled drawing room at Chequers, the PM’s country residence.

The audience was littered with present and past politicians who guffawed at the debates and dilemmas of their onstage counterparts. Our fear is that it is all true, that public servants rule the roost and that nothing will ever be done to improve our political environment. Be afraid!

By Kate Herbert


  1. Just seen it. It was...okay.

    Bernard, the straight man to the PM and sir Humphrey in the TV series, was played camp?! Leaving no straight man (ie: us) to be a foil. Actually, more confused than that. The lines were straight, but the performer hammed it up?!

    The tv version was affectionate; this was cynical. The reference to child prostituion as normal in Bangkok was offensive, to the point of being raciest. But really, too few laughs. I imagine it has a lot more resonance in London, being so uncompromisingly English in context but I was little more than mildly amused. Enjoyed the PM performance most.

  2. I didn't find the so called moral dilemma of child prostitution particular funny. One would think there would be sufficient material for comedy in the current state of world politics. I left at interval, not because I am a prude, but because the play wasn't a patch on the TV series and the seating was uncomfortable!