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Review: Yes, Prime Minister

A couple of hours of fun

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Liz Mente-Bishop avoided watching old Yes, Prime Minister episodes when gearing up for her role in the stage play of the same name, by the same writers (Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn), so her Kim Hacker wouldn’t be an attempt to emulate Paul Eddington’s Jim. And to her credit, in this Dan Whitley-directed production we do end up with something of an original PM – even if at times I wished for the warmth of the original Hacker.

Set in the UK leader’s Chequers study, it’s an evening of myriad issues for her, the main one being a pipeline deal which the Kumranistan foreign secretary won’t sign unless her team find him a girl (or three) he can pay for sex. The show gets funnier here, and the energy increases, as though the cast have limbered up a bit following an opening spell that feels a tad wooden.

Hacker, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Paul Barrand), Bernard Woolley (Chris Cooper) and head of the policy unity Claire Sutton (Kelly Ann Stewart) go about trying to fix the problem. With assassination of the foreign secretary contemplated at one point, and the PM kneeling in prayer, perhaps the plot ends up feeling a bit ridiculous to be plausible, but that certainly doesn’t mean you don’t want to see how the situation gets resolved.

Comic highlights arrive in the form of the team trying to come up with a wholesome-sounding title for their sex-related engagement, and in Bernard’s reading of scripted answers to the media down the phone. The responses are numbered in a book, so Hacker and Sutton can just call ‘1’ or ‘4’ at him from the sofa by way of instruction – “Oh, no, I’ve already done that one,” he says at one point.

Mente-Bishop seems a smidgen sober at times for the amount of Scotch Hacker consumes – though I suppose the character may well be trying to appear clear-headed – and there is significant distance between the stage and backstage (you couldn’t help feeling nervous for them in the dark). But it’s a couple of hours of fun that oddly did make me forget about the politics taking place outside.

Yes, Prime Minister is at Wesley Memorial Church until 28 September.

Photography © Simon Vail

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