first night

Yes, Prime Minister

Nikhil Vyas ends this year's assembly rooms reviewing with Ooook's 'Yes, Prime Minister'


Given the lack of political-based comedy in Durham, and given my love for the T.V. show which the play is based on, I had high hopes for Yes Prime Minister. And I have to say they were met for the most part- Ooook! has ended the year with another enjoyable, highly professional and hilarious show.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, Yes Prime Minister follows the reign of the hapless Prime Minister Jim Hacker, the many pitfalls of power he comes across and the attempts of him and his team of Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard Wooley to resolve them. The play itself focuses on the Hacker’s attempts to deal with the gratuitous requests of the Kumranistani Ambassador, who, in return for providing a hefty bailout package for the E.U, demands to be supplied with three call girls. For me, the main issues that the production encountered came from the script itself (perhaps given the nature of adaptation from screen to stage). While it was for the most part very funny, with the audience in fits of laughter at the endless quips and one-liners, it was fundamentally undecided between farce and satire, it meandered across every issue from climate change to drone strikes to fiscal policy, and above all was extremely wordy. As a result, the production had to work hard to keep the audience’s focus throughout. I felt the attempts at farce were not exploited as fully as possible- there were times where the show felt very static and lacking in energy, with the audience struggling to follow the rapid exchanges. However, the most successful and memorable were when the play ventured into the darker, more satirical areas- Hacker and his team coming up with more and more elaborate ways to procure the call girls, or shamelessly using global warming as a media cover for a collapsing government elicited both laughs and a genuine sense of moral outrage from the audience. Praise should go to director Suzy Hawes for handling these moments in particular to their comedic best.

The cast worked well as an ensemble, with distinct characterisations and with good control of laborious dialogue. As the eponymous Prime Minister, Hamish Inglis took a little time to grow into the character, but eventually reached an amusing combination of frantic political scheming and smug grandiosity. Andrew Shires as Sir Humphrey Appleby and Abigail Weinstock as Bernard Wooley drew the biggest laughs of the evening- Shires was superb as Appleby, delivering every cutting put-down with casually droll arrogance, while Weinstock’s bemused yet morally righteous presence was a sheer joy to behold. I was intrigued in particular by the character of Claire (Zoe Coxon)- while it initially seemed like she was the foil to the absurdity of the other characters, Coxon’s impressive performance developed the character into an unscrupulous schemer willing to do anything to ensure political survival.

As one would expect from an Ooook! Show, the production design and tech was of the highest order. Kacey Courtney’s set design cleverly used the flats to create a furnished office interior, complete with the separately lit outdoor street. This created a depth to the staging that was not only a visual treat, but was utilised as part of the action. Even though the odd sound cue was missed, this did not stop the technical direction of the show being very strong, for which praise should go to Elena Mychaleckyj and Michael Nower for lighting and sound design.

For anyone who likes a bit of high politics in their humour, Yes Prime Minister is the perfect show to see- one which all involved should be proud of, and one which ends the year’s Assembly Rooms programme on a high note. 

19 June 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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