Theatre Review: Yes Prime Minister

Yes Prime Minister by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn at Cambridge Arts Theatre until April 28. Review by Angela Singer.

Yes Prime Minister by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn at Cambridge Arts Theatre until April 28. Review by Angela Singer.

THIS play is so satisfying. The audience roared with relief at the sanity of it. We all know that the world is up-side-down – it’s so wonderful when people stop trying to pretend it’s the right way up.

It works so well, too, because it has a traditional structure of posing a seemingly unsolvable problem by the end of the first half, which is, after all, tidily resolved by the end. In a way you don’t expect. It is an excellent, thoroughly funny, delicately written, intriguingly clever play – which is not afraid to tackle the genuine issues, nonsenses and contradictions of today.

The performances are tremendous. Michael Simkins as Sir Humphrey, the cabinet secretary, is as smooth as silk. Verbal handstands are nothing to him. This is theatrical alacrity. His character allows the Prime Minister to tie himself into knots – then with just one flourish he can pull a thread and untangle everything – making it look so easy. Political sleight of hand.

Graham Seed as Prime Minister Jim Hacker is a hymn to anguish, besieged, oppressed, got in a corner but not quite fooled by those who are out to trick him. He knows he is being set a trap, he just doesn’t know how to get out of it – with the cheese. Another consummate performance which the audience adored.

As the play opens, PM Jim Hacker is about to sign an agreement with the country Kumranistan to loan the EU trillions and get Western Europe right out of trouble. The problem is that on the eve of the signing, while a guest at Chequers, the Kumranistan Foreign Minister has said he will not sign unless he is provided with a school-girl for the night.

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In consternation, Hacker calls for the Kumranistan Ambassador, played adroitly by Sam Dastor, who only points out that it is hypocritical of Hacker to care about the welfare of one child when so many children have been killed and maimed in Afghanistan and Iraq – and anyway, the minister has not asked for a virgin but just one child prostitute from King’s Cross, what is Hacker’s government doing about all the rest of them?

Hacker is left having to balance the fate of one young girl – against saving the economies of most of Europe.

However, by the end of the play, Sir Humphrey has come up with a solution that leaves both the notional girl and the fate of Europe and the Euro exactly where they are – no help or salvation for either of them. Instead, he reaches for a completely unrelated “problem” for Hacker to have appeared to solve – that will save the Prime Minister’s face and fool the world.

I won’t tell you what the imagined “problem” is. It would be a lot more fun for you to see the play. Most advisable.