Theatre review: Yes, Prime Minister, Leeds Grand Theatre

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WHATEVER you might expect to see in this stage reprise of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s glorious creation, don’t expect anything close to the TV version.

Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne are now mere memories, supplanted by a more 21st Century scenario.

The central characters of premiere Jim Hacker and his troublesome civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby remain intact but, particularly in the case of Hacker, they remain only in name.

Simon Williams’ delivery of the Machiavellian cabinet secretary is similar in content, but very different in style to Hawthorne’s somewhat slimy operator.

Maybe it’s down to casting such a dashing actor to take on the part, but Williams’ performance, as capable as it is, seems much cooler and constant.

Meanwhile, Richard McCabe’s PM is the antithesis of Eddington’s rather bungling gentleman. Perhaps we should blame the last resident of Number Ten, but this Hacker is a rather more rotund, volatile figure with a thick head of wavy black hair. Remind you of anyone?

Even the setting is different, switching from the offices of Whitehall to the Prime Minister’s study at Chequers.

But the most obvious change is the addition of Claire Sutton, special policy adviser to the PM. Played brilliantly by Charlotte Lucas, she embodies the post-Blair world of politics where the balance of power has swung away from Whitehall mandarins towards government experts, each whispering different things in ministers’ ears.

Chris Larkin is amusing enough as Bernard Woolley, principal private secretary, but he is relegated to fourth place by Sutton and Sir Humphrey.

As uncomfortable as it initially feels the overall shift is a positive one. Jay and Lynn could have easily pleased the purists by sewing together four unseen episodes of the old Yes, Prime Minister together. But they admirably lifted the intrigue out of the 80s into a post-Blair world.

Sure, we miss the old Sir Humphrey and Hacker, but Richard McCabe’s performance, in particular, gives us something equally delightful.

Some will despise this, but most will see the old one-liners and political observations remain reassuringly intact.

l Until Saturday, Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds, 7.30pm, Sat mat 2.30pm, £12.50 to £28.50, Tel. 0844 8482706

Rod McPhee

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