Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Yes, Prime Minister" - June 2011

Although she's taken a back seat from writing reviews these days, Waldorf always contributes to what ends up in our thoughts here. After seeing "Yes, Prime Minister" she surprised me by offering to write our comments on it. Turns out her plan was simply to say "Give it a miss and watch the DVD box set instead". But by then I'd already had to make a conscious decision not to leave at the interval - and the main thing that kept me there was the fact I was going to be writing about it here.

When I'd first heard about this stage version of the much loved TV show I was sceptical. It was hard to imagine these characters played by anyone other than Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne & Derek Fowlds. Even with the original writing team of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn I struggled to believe it would work. And then the reviews came in - all very positive - for both the London and touring casts. We simply couldn't dismiss it anymore.

But almost as soon as the show started we knew we'd made a dreadful mistake. This was horrible. Simply horrible. It would be understandable if our disconnection from the show was due being unable to accept these new faces as the well known characters, but that wasn't the case. Yes, the central performances from Richard McCabe, Simon Williams and Chris Larkin were overcooked, but the real problem was in the writing. Sir Humphrey no longer has his aura of supreme competence and Jim Hacker appears to have the upper hand for most of the evening. Hacker and Bernard have lost all the charm and likability of the originals leaving Hacker a pretty vile little man and Bernard a cliched upper class twit. It's as if they have been B'stardised into their New Statesman equivalents.

The plot, such that it is, also seems terribly misjudged. The (comparatively) grounded reality of the TV show has disappeared and the replacement is almost beyond farce. The suggestion that they should comply with a foreign representative's request to provide him with an underage prostitute is at best in bad taste; to attribute that request to a "Kumrani" politician and include discussion of Islamic attitudes is likely to cause considerable offence.

In the interest of fairness, many in the audience at Glasgow's Theatre Royal clearly enjoyed the evening. Although the reception to the first half was generally rather flat, by the curtain call it had won most over. And don't forget that there are plenty of excellent reviews of the show with only one or two feeling as we did.

For us it was totally lacking in humour, cleverness or subtlety - everything that made the original so wonderful.
Give it a miss and watch the DVD box set instead.

"Yes, Prime Minister" runs in Glasgow until Satuday 25th June and then continues on its national tour.
Image by Manuel Harlan used with permission.

7 Heckles

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with this review. I have to confess that we did leave at the interval and it does seem that the second half was better. But I found the humour strained and predictable and the emerging paedophile theme was quite off-putting. It suffered from comparison with 'The Thick of It' but it still could have been good; it just wasn't clever or funny enoungh.

Adrian Magson said...

I also left at the interval (july 2011). It was leaden and forced, and using the premise of procuring underage prostitutes to gurantee a government loan from an east-European state was appallingly bad taste. It was so far below the brilliant wit and word play of the original tv series,I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

Anonymous said...

I am glad to find people who I relate too. After watching it today I just do not understand why the mainstream reviews are so positive.
The story line was terrible and convoluted since although after the first 20 minutes (the bit about Humphrey and the euro seemed to quickly die a death)there was a slightly more coherent plot, it was all about under age sex. Honestly after having some one very close to me suffer abuse as a child it made me extremely uncomfortable. But I am glad to see that others felt that way too because for me and my Mother whom I took, it felt like we were the only ones in the audience who felt this way.
The plot was dreadful and crass and the old dynamic between Humphrey and Hacker seemed to vanish very quickly.

The actors themselves were good but since I was simply not enjoying very much what they were saying it did not out weigh the negatives.

To be fair there were some very funny bits but sadly too few and far between .

Anonymous said...

So glad I've read these reviews! I don't think I laughed once when I saw this stage version. I never watched the tv series but caught clips occasionally and though it was suposed to be amusing. So I was both disappointed and then apalled at how tacky it became as the underage sex theme gathered momentum using every opportunity to include as many other politically incorrect topics as it rolled on and on. Perhaps I missed the 'joke' but I noticed several others around me who also stopped laughing and started fidgeting awkwardly in their seats. However, many others clearly found it hilarious. Shame I didn't share the joke.

Henry said...

Once again...I've been searching people with similar idea. Finally...I couldn't agree more of what you guys commented.
The Show is quite and funny, but I would say....I miss the TV series much more indeed. In TV series, there's always one key issue with witty dynamics between civil servants and politicians within a 25 mins show, while the drama, they tried to touch on so many current affairs. Also...the dynamics between civil servants and politican seems to me that it's all too up-front, but not subtle enough as the script was written. I may not understand drama or English enough, but the relationship between Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacket, portraited by Nigel Hawthone and Paul Eddington,were interdependent, disliking, but accepting or endorsing each other in a very very subtle manner. Their facial expression and way or interaction per se is joyfully good fun. Sometimes it's even more interesting than their viewpoints on specific political issues.
In drama, they seems to focus much more on current political issues. Very wise, frank and updated as the writers has put it, but I expect a bit of depthness too.

It's true that Yes, Prime minister is famous of its long script from a civil servant, the dynamics between civil servants and politicans etc. The dramas got all of those elements basically, but the whole is much more than the sum of them. The Chemistry surely isn't working in Gielgud theatre.
I came over from Hong Kong and watched it on my birthday. I don't regret, not at all, I still enjoyed, but I honestly expect a bit more from them.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above after seeing the show recently in Melbourne, Australia.

I must admit that this is my favourite TV show of all time so expectations were always going to be high.

Although with different actors here, the problem was not so much the acting (and I had readied myself for poor acting), but the plotline and the script.

As for the plot, I too was appalled and found it completely distasteful. Yet the biggest disappointment was the lack of dynamic between Humprey & Hacker. The ebb & flow of the power balance between the two, which was one of the aspects that had made the TV series so delightful, was as subtle as a car crash.

And rather than the futile attempts of Hackers political will versus Humpries bureaucratic machine, the second act mostly consisted a brainstorming session between Hacker, Bernard and Claire that left no ingenious solution to the quagmire they faced. The script lacked the witty one liners and word play of the original which could have redeemed the show somewhat, alas it was a total disappointment.

Anonymous said...

At one point in this awful play the characters pray to god for a solution to their quandary . I reall wish now I had shouted out "Ask god for a decent script, while your at it"

Unfunny tasteless rubbish.