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Review: Yes Prime Minister

Actor Philip Quast

Antony Jay, who worked with the BBC on current affairs and documentaries, has a passionate interest in how institutions work and how people work in institutions. Jonathan Lynn was a comedic performer, then a theatre director before directing films including The Whole Nine Yards. In 1982, they got together to write and direct the TV show Yes Minister that became a hit for the BBC. Much has transpired since British Prime Minister Jim Hacker first invited the television audience into the corridors of Whitehall and brought to light, in the most entertaining manner, how the public servant machinations had more say in the running of the country than the appointed leader.

The opulent set is a wood-panelled study with chandelier, antique furniture, and gold-framed predecessors looking down on the action at Chequers – the Prime Minister’s official country residence. Jim Hacker (Mark Owen-Taylor) still has the only top job on the country that doesn’t require any previous experience and Sir Humphrey Appleby (Philip Quast) is the Cabinet Secretary with great distain for the revolving parade of his elected bosses. Caught in between the two is Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley. Hacker (with the help of Senior Policy Advisor Claire Sutton) and Humphrey seem equally matched as they come to loggerheads, unlike the really clueless prime minister in the television series. Humphrey, however, wins hands down for the bureaucratic-speak diatribes. Woolley visible squirms in their company while Sutton struts around with a phony accent in a badly-fitting dress.

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The British contempt for foreigners seems to have remained the same but political concerns have shifted in the intervening years. Verbal sparring now centres on oil, global warming, the European Union, monetary concerns, illegal migration, the power of public servants and the demands of a petty dictator delivered by an ambassador (Alex Menglet) from the small country of Kumranistan. Now showing at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, Australian concerns have been included into the script and the political mumbo-jumbo surrounding the Carbon Tax got a huge round of applause from the audience on opening night. Over 2 hours and 15 minutes, the dialogue never flags as the characters manoeuvre themselves into awkward situations and skilfully extricate themselves with all the deceitful aplomb we can expect from politics.

Yes Prime Minister runs until Sunday 10 June and tickets start at $48. Read our interview with lead actor Philip Quast.

Lezly Herbert

 

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