Left – Mark Owen-Taylor and Philip Quast. Cover – John Lloyd Fillingham, Mark Owen-Taylor and Philip Quast. Photos – SDP Media
Yes, Prime Minister, it is just as witty after some 24 years, it is just as clever, and it is just as excruciatingly relevant, and it certainly works as a two-hour play. It's not just nostalgia for a much loved telly series – it still strikes the chords, and is still very funny.
The authors are the same, and so the only thing that has changed is the cast, and this cast does an excellent job of bringing the complexities of the interacting tensions between Ministers and the Civil Service back into the limelight. Mark Owen-Taylor is alternately frazzled and commanding as the Prime Minister, Jim Hacker; Philip Quast is brilliantly and suitably simpering as the obfuscating Sir Humphrey Appleby; and John Lloyd Fillingham (the only real Pom in the cast) is rubber faced and with movements sometimes as convoluted as his allegiances, as The PM's Principal Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley.
They are accompanied by a suave Claire Sutton as the PM's "SPAD" (Special Policy Advisor) – an updated newcomer to the original "Number Ten" group, in addition to Jeremy Burnham in a small role as Director general of the BBC, Alex Menglet as the Kumranistan Ambassador, and Russell Fletcher on camera as the BBC Presenter. All provide competent and necessary foils to the main characters in order to fill out the somewhat familiar, if rather unnecessarily congested plot, in which the proverbial permutations are updated with references to mobile phones, blackberries, the GFC, Eurotroubles and countries that end in "stan" that are gushing with oil.
The set – a gracious panelled and tome-lined room in Chequers, the PM's official country residence – by Shaun Gurton is superb, solid and convincing. The lighting, rain, thunder storm and sound add to the mayhem as the plot almost descends into farce in Act two, and is just rescued by Bernard.
There are some delightful lines such as, "Power abhors a vacuum and we are currently led by one", and "Blackmail is criminal – we use leverage". But comedic highlights are also provided by Fillingham's physical as well as verbal contortions as Bernard, and in particular by Quast's masterly delivery of voluble strings of verbiage, prevarication and euphemism as Sir Humphrey.
This is a most welcome revival, and whether you are familiar with the TV series or not, it provides some chastening behind-the-scenes insights into the absurdities of politics which has been ever thus. And it is a jolly good laugh.
YES, PRIME MINISTER
by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn
Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre, Adelaide
Dates: 23 – 27 May 2012
Tickets: $89.00 – $39.00