Theatre review: Yes Prime Minister, The Civic

By Paul Simei-Barton

Mark Owen-Taylor as PM Jim Hacker and Caroline Craig as Claire Sutton in Yes Prime Minister.
Mark Owen-Taylor as PM Jim Hacker and Caroline Craig as Claire Sutton in Yes Prime Minister.

Sir Humphrey Appleby, the consummate civil servant with a patrician disdain for the delusions of democratic government, is an almost perfect comic creation.

He functions like one of the stock characters of commedia dell'arte - endlessly adaptable and brimming with humorous potential that is both timeless and topical.

The creators of the much-loved TV series, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, have done a fine job bringing the show up to date with a very credible portrait of a British PM wrestling with the issues of the day.

But political satire dates quickly and jokes about the global financial crisis, climate change, and the quagmire of European monetary policy would have had more bite when the show premiered in 2010. The script could use a few tweaks to include hot-button issues like Wikileaks and the internal surveillance scandal.

The show may be a victim of its own success. In the 1980s, exposing politicians' most idealistic aspirations as a mask for self-serving manipulation had a sharp satirical edge, while in our more cynical age it has become the default position of almost all political commentary and feels more like conventional wisdom.

Adapting a hit TV show is never easy and the writers tread a cautious path between retaining the familiar elements that made the show so successful and introducing the more theatrical style required for live performance.

The talented Aussie cast, with a nice cameo from Kiwi ring-in David Aston, have nailed the essential mannerisms of British comedy.

At times Mark Owen-Taylor's exuberant portrayal of an embattled Prime Minister facing a mental breakdown recalls the wild histrionics of John Cleese and The Flying Doctor's Robert Grubb has a wonderfully mellifluous voice that is perfectly pitched for the extravagant verbosity of Sir Humphrey's brilliantly evasive double-speak.

Review

What: Yes Prime Minister
Where: The Civic, to July 13.

- NZ Herald

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