Review: Yes, Prime Minister

Yes PM
Image credit: Laura Wells

With the closure of the ADC looming, Yes, Prime Minister, the Cambridge Union’s first foray into staging a theatrical production,  gave an exciting taster of how new spaces could be put to good use.

The scene, Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country home. The PM, Jim Hacker, leads a fragile coalition cabinet facing rising unemployment, a large debt and global warming. Fortunately,  he is entertaining a foreign official who is offering the European Central Bank and the United Kingdom a ten trillion dollar loan which has the potential to save the EU and all of the UK’s problems, for now. This deal has been brokered by the brilliant Cabinet Secretary, Sir Humphrey played by Tom Nunan.

As the PM is faced with an onslaught of problems, it is up to the team including his smart but slightly gormless private secretary Bernard (Hannah Lyall) and sharp special advisor, Claire (Clodagh Kelsh), to come up with a solution to these problems, or at least, enough of a solution to keep the PM in power until his period in office expires. From then on, the PM, his civil servants and his special advisor all engage in politics Olympics, deftly dealing with foreign relations, internal and global affairs.

If some of the plot sounds eerily familiar, it is because of the excellent political satire perfectly suited to the debating chamber whose plush Chesterfield leather armchairs are all the staging you need to give an air of political institutions. As the story unfolds, there is a clever use of the projectors and cameras usually used for the debates.

Previous theatrical performances of the television adaptation of Yes, Prime Minister, have been accused of being “out of touch” (Charles Spencer, The Telegraph, July 2011), however, this production felt right on trend with the prime minister facing conflict in the EU along with a couple of references to, what have become the soundbites of political discourse: referring to the newscaster by name, a call for clarity which, of necessity, only obscures what is actually being said, and avoiding questions like they were brussel sprouts at Christmas (a Brussels intervention no one asked for in this author’s opinion).

After his excellent performance as the Chaplain earlier this year in Porterhouse Blue, I was looking forward to seeing Tom Nunan in the role of Sir Humphrey. He did not disappoint. The comedy this time, in his wit and ability to solve almost any problem with political acrobatics. He carried himself so well, that is was easy to forget that he was not a real long-standing (suffering?) civil servant. The same was true of BBC General Director, played by Colin Rothwell. The PM played by Eduardo Strike, was a very believable politician. It often felt as though Sir Humphrey was a supervisor to a very unprepared student. My only criticism is the acoustics of the Union Debating Chamber. The actors could have benefitted from microphones as it was sometimes difficult to catch what they were saying.

If you like political satire devoid of party politics, Yes, Prime Minister, with its able cast, witty script and fun use the of the Union debating Chamber is well worth a watch. For a taster, visit their facebook page.

Yes, Prime Minister is on at the Cambridge Union, Tuesday 13 March at 19:30.


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