10 February 2012

Review: Yes, Prime Minister

Yes, Prime Minister
Andrew Guild, Simon Bryce and Tim Woods
2 February 2011
Comedy Theatre
to 4 March
www.yesprimeminister.com.au


As a QandA watcher, of course I love the terribly witty and glorious British telly series Yes Minister and Yes PM. And now we have of the new stage version by the series writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, with Philip Quast (one of my favourites). Could this be commercial theatre with intelligence and guts?

PM Jim Hacker (Mark Owen-Taylor) is still in office, civil servants Sir Humphrey (Quast) and Bernard (John Lloyd Fillinghan) are still with him and there's a new woman on board to be the voice of compassion and reason if the blokes get a bit too fuddy duddy – and she wears short skirts and must be a genius to have reached such a position at her age.

It's late night and the PM is hoping to sign an oil pipeline deal with Kumranistan (don't want to offend a real country) that'll please Europe and leave Hacker a politcial legend and Sir Humphrey with an even better-paid job. But there's a problem, the Kumranistan Foreign Minister has asked Bernard for a deal-breaker favour.

So it's hi-jinks, one-liners and long clever speeches that get applause (good actoring is learning lines; I feel so bad for not applauding every time I hear a Shakespeare soliloquy), as our heros solve the problem about how to find an underage-looking school girl who's willing to have sex with the Foreign Minister.

There's some loose discussion around age of consent that makes it non-pedo and it's assured that he wants a non-virgin so that he does't ruin her life. However, I'm a prude and think that procuring a child to have sex with an adult isn't OK, even with jokes about horizontal diplomacy and 'debate' about the girl's life already being miserable and by doing this she at least gets paid and all of Europe benefits.

Putting aside the pimping and mild racism (he's a foreigner with different standards), our gang's dilemma is naughtier than that allowed on the box, but written to be inoffensive, leaving its audience without a side to cheer for. Story without hero or real choice; I've done more interesting tax returns. If the Foreign Minister wanted something more benign (maybe a safe illegal drug), we would be free to cheer them on and want a complex and absurd plan to make it work out. Or if he'd asked for something so offensive (I'll leave that up to you) that every member of the audience says, "NO", we'd have an issue to cheer for and there'd be an opportunity for genuine satire.

Perhaps if the production and direction did more than reflect the idea that commercial audiences are happy with a slip on a banana peel and a funny face, we'd have a better view of the script and even feel the dilemma and guilt of realising your own hypocrisy.

If you're thinking of going, might be better to buy the box set of the series and say No to this Prime Minister.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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