The Whingers can be notoriously fickle.
After initial flickers of interest in seeing the Chichester transfer Yes, Prime Minister in its earlier incarnation, well you know how it is, other shows fluttered their seductive eyelids at us, dragged us knee-tremblingly up the West End back alleys and somehow it just dropped off our rather slipshod radar.
So it came and went and toured and came back again. Then it got shunted a couple of doors up Shaftesbury Avenue, presumably to fill the void left when Lend Me A Tenor took an early bath (hark at us using sporting metaphors!) and an opportunity presented itself, well to Phil at least as Andrew was experiencing other behind-the-scenes power shenanigans by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spying.
It probably helped that Phil never really watched Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s (the latter also directs) 80’s sitcom whose stage version sees Prime Minister Jim Hacker (Richard McCabe) and Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Simon Williams) struggling with a crucial oil deal that might save their ailing coalition government. Oil supplies aren’t the the only problem: the foreign minister of the fictitious Kumranistan is staying at Chequers (where the play is set), is key to the deal and wants supplying with something else.
As Hacker and his cronies discover just how spiky the horns of the moral dilemma facing them is the audience emitted a collective gasp.
Despite the enjoyable frenzied absurdity of the ensuing events, it’s quite easy to let oneself believe that they are not that far removed from how the corridors of power operate. References to coalitions and hacking provide a certain frisson although (and perhaps it’s churlish to suggest this) it might be even funnier if they could add a few more up-to-the-minute references.
Happily Phil was with most of the audience, laughing out loud, a lot. Unlike Virginia Bottomley, Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, who was seated in the row in front of him. Although occasionally obscured from Phil’s gaze by her hubby Peter she appeared quite untransported by the hilarity. Perhaps the former Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was unamused by an early pop at one of her particular fields or maybe she was baulking at the political incorrectness of it all. Or did she see it as documentary?
McCabe conveys the sweaty desperation of a PM seeing his power slipping away most amusingly although he certainly wasn’t the only one in a sweat; the Gielgud needs to invest in some air-con immediately.
Williams’ suavely calculating rictus smiles and smooth condescension are hilarious. His comedy hand-flapping was a sparingly used joy, though perhaps he should be encouraged to use it more frequently so the audience might all cool down a bit. Each of his absurd politico-babble speeches elicited a round of applause. It’s a wonder the traditional, wood-panelled set (Simon Higlett) wasn’t similarly awarded. No doubt it was in Brighton.
With the recently Emmy-ennobled (why?) Dame Maggie Smith unlikely to be treading the boards in the forseable her son Chris Larkin now bears such a striking resemblance to his ma that he’s the next best thing available on a stage. Look at those eyes! Look at that mouth! Uncanny. As Bernard, the twitchily anxious Principal Private Secretary, he has clearly inherited the comedic gene and against strong competition almost steals the show. Phil was particularly impressed with his jaunty interpretation of casual dress.
Y,PM pulls off the TV to theatre translation successfully because it’s smartly written, directed and played. But let us hope this is not a pernicious trend. Birds of a Feather is also winging its way to the stage next year. Is it of dubious taste to pray for a recurrence of avian flu? Lines have to be drawn. My Family anyone? Thought not.