Yes, Prime Minister, Richmond Theatre, June 2011

In an interesting essay in the programme, based on his experience in government and the civil service, Bernard Donoughue makes the observation that “Sir Humphrey’s Rolls-Royce machine” is “no longer running Whitehall as smoothly as earlier”. Could this be why Sir Humphrey, as portrayed by Simon Williams, seemed less coolly in command than I expected, though I liked Richard McCabe’s Jim Hacker with his eloquent facial expressions? As the other two main characters, Chris Larkin was suitably constipated as Bernard Woolley the PPS, and Charlotte Lucas was brilliantly in control as Claire Sutton, the PM’s Special Policy Advisor, but the plot was a bit thin.

Simon Williams and Richard McCabe

Jim Hacker is hosting a weekend conference of EU leaders, and Kumranistan is offering an interest-free ten trillion dollar loan to the EU to get it out of financial difficulties. The payment will come in the form of huge oil revenues based on a special premium price, but to give the British this diplomatic coup, the foreign minister of Kumranistan requires the services of an under-age schoolgirl. Confusion all round, added to which the BBC is doing a one-hour government documentary the same weekend. The pressure is on, and there are some good lines, such as when Hacker calls the BBC a bunch of ‘posturing opportunists’, and when — after the schoolgirl issue has burst — Hacker gives the Kumranistan ambassador ’48 hours to get to Heathrow’, and he responds, ‘What do you think I am — a snail?’ But the humour seemed a bit laboured, and the right comic timing was lacking.

There should be more spontaneity, or at least the appearance of it, but the only real piece of spontaneity came when the lights went out in Act I, due to a technical fault, and Simon Williams coolly said, ‘Night seems to be drawing in’. Well done indeed, and the actors quietly left the stage. When the lights came back on we heard them being recalled to stage, and after the interval things seemed to warm up, but the Rolls-Royce machine of creators Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn never quite seemed to get into gear.

Performances at the Richmond Theatre continue until Saturday, June 18 — for details click here. This production then moves to the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End for a ten week run from July 6.

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