YES, PRIME MINISTER

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

09/07/2013 - 14/07/2013

Aurora Centre, Burnside, Christchurch

16/07/2013 - 20/07/2013

Opera House, Wellington

02/07/2013 - 06/07/2013

Production Details



– NEW ZEALAND’S OTHER COALITION COMEDY –

“As sharp and blissfully funny as ever” 
Daily Telegraph

“An absorbing experience for anyone interested in political process… Yes, Prime Minister proves that making fun of politics is healthy in a democracy and that some human behaviour is appalling – and therefore a target for scorn and ridicule”
The West Australian

In 1982, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn penned the first episodes of Yes Minister for the BBC. It was an instant hit. Their characters and situations revealed, to a largely unsuspecting public, the deliciously awkward marriage between civil servants and politicians. Twenty-five years later these brilliant wordsmiths have done it again and this time it’s a hit play !

It’s 2012. A lot has happened since the Rt Hon. Jim Hacker MP last walked the corridors of Whitehall. There’s the GFC, rising oil prices, minority governments, illegal immigrants and global warming. If that’s not enough to contend with, the 24 hour news cycle, constant bleating of mobile phones, endless emails and a new generation of spin doctors. Ably assisted by Cabinet Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, and Principal Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley, these three most loved characters from the hit BBC series gather once more to sort out another very thorny problem. 

Since its opening in September 2010 at London’s Gielgud Theatre Yes, Prime Minister has been the toast of British theatregoers. The play will bring the riotous inner workings of Westminster to the New Zealand stage for the first time. 

WELLINGTON BOOK NOW!  
THE OPERA HOUSE, 6 performances from 2nd July

Performance Times
Evenings: Tuesday at 6:30om, Wednesday – Saturday at 7:30pm
Matinee: Saturday at 3pm Bookings: Ticketek or 0800TICKETEK (842538)

AUCKLAND BOOK NOW!
CIVIC THEATRE, THE EDGE, 6 performances from 9th July 
Performance Times
Evenings:Tuesday 6:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday at 7:30pm
Matinee:Saturday and Sunday at 3pm
Bookings: buytickets.co.nz or Call 0800 BUYTICKETS (2898425)
Groups (12+) call (09) 357 3354 

CHRISTCHURCH BOOK NOW! 
AURORA CENTRE, 6 performances from 16th July
Performance Times
Evenings: Tuesday at 6:30om, Wednesday – Saturday at 7:30pm
Matinee: Saturday at 2pm
Bookings: Ticketek or 0800TICKETEK (842538) 

 


CAST
Mark Owen Taylor           Jim Hacker
Robert Grubb                  Sir Humphrey Appleby 
Russell Fletcher               Bernard Woolley
Caroline Craig                 Claire Sutton
Laura Maitland                Simone Chester 
David Aston                    Kumranistan Ambassador 
Timothy Schwerdt           Camera Man & understudy 

In Christchurch:
Laura Maitland                Claire Sutton
Timothy Schwerdt           Simon Chester 

CREW 
Matthew Henderson     Production Stage Manager 
Justin Truloff               Assistant Stage Manager 
Bronwyn Walsh           Head LX

CREATIVE
Keith Tucker               Lighting Designer
Graham McGuffie        Set Designer
Andrew Guild              Producer
Simon Bryce               Producer
Tim Woods                 Producer
Dale Harrison             Associate Producer



Satirising spheres of political influence

Review by Lindsay Clark 17th Jul 2013

It is over three decades since the key characters and context for the hugely popular BBC series Yes Minister crafted delicious satire from the inner sanctum of British politics. Well into the NZ tour of the new hit play, raising the laughs from the same general circumstances and written by the same savvy pair, their neatly turned barbs and certain handling of the ridiculous prove that some old recipes are as effective as ever.  

The Aurora Centre with its deep end-on audience arrangement is not the easiest performance space for small cast theatre. Facial expression is hard to read and engagement with the players is a real challenge. For this play though, treating a general set up already familiar to much of the audience, and involving a steady series of escalating problems, the physical set up matters less than usual. In general terms we know where we are going and we ask only that the plot have sufficient small surprises, the lines come with fresh polish and the characters become even more intense versions of the ones we have enjoyed on the small screen. 

Christchurch audiences, given their perception of local and national politics in recent times, are possibly even more receptive than punters elsewhere to the shenanigans that go on in the offices of power. In this case it is the UK Prime Minister’s study at his country estate, Chequers, and the shenanigans compound from the advice he receives, as well as the conflicts they inflict on his basic wish to do good without sacrificing a shred of profile.

The set, from the design of Graham McGuffie and cosily lit (Keith Tucker), is a generously detailed affair, suggesting the timelessness and blandness of such spaces, which contrast so entertainingly with the frenzied improvisation of most events therein. For although plans may be laid with exquisite forethought, they are subverted constantly. It could be media attention, foreign relationships, the economy, human rights concerns, the hint of divine intent in a thunderstorm, or just human nature – the possibilities are many and the comic harvest is rich.

Lots to play with then: namely sharp dialogue, plenty of plot surges and cleanly established characters. The cast, as one would expect, is energetic, accomplished and assured, all strong presences on the stage. They need to be all of that to translate talk heavy situations into engaging theatre and in spite of their good work, things seem to plod at times. Perhaps it is the repetitive structure of revelation, advice, counter advice and debate which, however witty and worldly does pall a little.

The two chief protagonists are masters of the stage. As Sir Humphrey Appleby, Cabinet Secretary, Robert Grubb is impeccable. His smooth manipulation of events is carried out with the absolute authority of one who knows he has the tools to top any contest of wills. His spiels of obfuscation and spin, delivered in wonderfully soothing and modulated tones, several times prompted applause. 

As the focus of his concern, Mark Owen-Taylor’s Jim Hacker, Prime Minister, perfects the frown of concentration, whereby he tries to make sense, both moral and political, of the crumbling circumstances in which he is placed when a loan deal with oil rich Kumranistan turns out to have serious complications. His mounting desperation fuels the rising action of the play in a nicely tuned performance. 

In the uncomfortable territory between these two, the PM’s Principal Private Secretary, aptly named Bernard Woolley, is played with considerable charm by Russell Fletcher. Without overdoing the naivete, he is a model of well meaning, ineffectual authority, challenged by the incisive interpolations of Laura Maitland as the coolly practical political science whizz, Special Policy Advisor, Claire Sutton.

David Aston, playing a silky Kumranistan Ambassador and Tim Schwerdt as Simon Chester, BBC front man, complete the main cast.

This is a well-knit team, orchestrating gently satirical farce into an entertaining event. It brews sophisticated humour, relying on the fact that the audience will be keen to latch on to spheres of influence in the political world. But then again, who isn’t?

Comments

Make a comment

Adaptation’s satirical edge could be sharper

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 11th Jul 2013

Sir Humphrey Appleby, the consummate civil servant with a patrician disdain for the delusions of democratic government, is an almost perfect comic creation. He functions like one of the stock characters of commedia dell’arte – endlessly adaptable and brimming with humorous potential that is both timeless and topical. 

The creators of the much-loved TV series, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, have done a fine job bringing the show up to date with a very credible portrait of a British PM wrestling with the issues of the day. [More]

Comments

Make a comment

I could hardly say no

Review by Matt Baker 11th Jul 2013

Originating from the BBC series, which ran between 1980 and 1984, and from 1986-88, writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn have reunited to update and adapt their BAFTA winning television series Yes, Prime Minister to the stage. Premiering at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne 2012, the Australian production opened last night at Auckland’s Civic Theatre to a diversely aged audience. I note this purely because while there would have been those in the audience who had seen the series, and those who had not, this is an easily accessible production of high calibre.

The play’s political content, wrapped in its comedic contextual shroud, constructs a rather simple dramatic plot, but the snowball effect allows for a huge amount of ground to be covered, from oil routes and global warming, to Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi. The audience orientated theatrical presentation was slightly jarring at first, but Tom Gutteridge’s direction deftly integrates this with the overall staging of the play, so that it quickly becomes a natural part of both movement and style. [More]

Comments

Make a comment

Mild farce with a political agenda

Review by Adey Ramsel 10th Jul 2013

Any stage show based on a much loved TV series, one that has attained cult status, can only succeed or fail in that comparison. It is futile to try and separate the two, especially when all the hype on TV and in the media is based around its previous TV incarnation and actually has an ex-cast member announce how funny the play is.

After this much hype I think I sat down expecting to be disappointed. And I was. Someone said to me on the way out, “Imagine what it would have been like with bad actors”. A praise and a damn.

The play is long – an hour each Act and a twenty minute interval. Not long for many plays but one with so much static delivery, and that in a very declamatory old-fashioned way, makes it feel that we are being fed the laughs, so it feels long. Any comedian will tell you that laughs played out too direct don’t return the effort put into them. A comedy play is funny because the action and situation is comedic, not the preaching. 

Original screenwriters Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn have proved they’re at the top of their game still with a satirical script that does sparkle. We’re treated to every fad and fashion in the world of politics from global warming, illegal immigrants, oil, aid, prostitution and hung parliaments.

The majority of the satire hits home here, and no doubt did in Australia, as much as it did back in the UK. Politics is politics the world over and those knee deep in it wear the same supercilious grin the world over. Neither continents nor boundaries alter the self-serving ego that fills the corridors of power and it is these people who not only work it well from the inside but also have the least admiration for the system they’re in.

Jay and Lynn know their topic and give us plenty to laugh at, which last night’s opening night audience did.

Satire and characterisation, the writers do well – but plot wise, maybe not so. Half hour episodes are one thing but the stage is another. Though steeped in credits to make anyone proud, neither Jay nor Lynn seem that experienced as playwrights and a judicious editor, or maybe a courageous director, may have done the play some good by getting their editing pencil out. 

The first half is set up, the second half is pay off, though the style quickly steers into farce which was never a mainstay of the series.

The plot, what there is, is a loose frame work but it is done with style and panache. Nothing seems contrived, and it all fits together beautifully; the cast work the stage, each other and the script to perfection, aided by director Tom Gutteridge’s pace (notwithstanding the front-on attack as mentioned above); a well-crafted and perfect set by Graham McGuffie is the ideal backdrop, remininscent of many a drawing room comedy but… I don’t know, something is lacking.

Maybe I can’t get past the original, which had such a richness of pace, quality and on more than one occasion was referred to as matching ‘a restoration comedy’. What I saw last night was mild farce with a political agenda. Those around me laughed and cheered at the curtain call suggesting that maybe I was the only one missing the original. It’s certainly a play to listen to and it took me a while to realise that the audience were doing just that, and not providing live canned laughter. 

Robert Grubb as Sir Humphrey Appleby leads the way, mastering the art of the pause and gesture to great effect. Wherever on stage he is worth watching for his reaction to everything, from a phone ring to the suggestion that all that he holds dear may be at threat. 

Mark Owen-Taylor, as PM Jim Hacker, plays it too camp for my liking, suggesting more of a puppet of the Government than the Hacker we are used to. Even so, Owen-Taylor is hardly off stage and pours 100% effort into the role, maintaining pace and character throughout. 

Russell Fletcher, in my mind, fails to deliver the eager puppy like quality of Hackers Private Secretary, Bernard Wooley. Caught in the middle the character is ripe for gesture and body language which never seems to materialise.

Caroline Craig as Policy Advisor Clair Sutton adds glamour and a feminine touch to the boys’ club, equally matching Grubb on stage for reaction and command. 

Kiwi David Aston, in all-too-brief appearances as the Kumranistan Ambassador, plays it straight, delivering a nicely tuned piece of dialogue full of foreign policy satire. 

Laura Maitland as BBC presenter Simone Chester, and Timothy Schwerdt as the Cameraman, arrive just at the right moment in the dying scene of the play, adding a touch of interest and action.

Comments

Make a comment

Promising start but descends to prostitution for its laughs

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 09th Jul 2013

Popular TV shows that become synonymous with certain actors always have difficulty in finding credibility when turned into stage plays and Yes Prime Minister is no exception.

Written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, who also created the TV series, the play has all the main characters and all the political in-jokes from the TV shows. The economic recession, rising oil prices, minority governments, illegal immigrants and global warming, although within the British context, all get a mention and the writing is often very funny.

And the disparities between the Government, in this case the Prime Minster, Jim Hacker (Mark Owen-Taylor) and his PR spin doctor Claire Sutton (Caroline Craig) and the Public Service, represented by Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Robert Grubb) and the PM’s Private Secretary Bernard Woolley (Russell Fletcher) and who actually runs the country are well pointed up.

And although the well-schooled and competent actors, under the direction in this production of Tom Gutteridge, give creditable performances and bring lots of energy to their roles, a lot of the play is static dialogue between the actors much more suited to the medium of TV than the stage.

And even though the actors create their own characters and avoid imitating the roles famously created by the TV actors, somehow the humour has less impact than when delivered in the TV shows. 

The setting for Yes Prime Minister is the PM’s country home Chequers where Hacker is faced with crisis after crisis made more so by the controlling and obstructive Humphries. The first half is mildly amusing with many satirical lines that say as much about our own politicians as those in Britain.  The second half however descends into over-the-top farce with the main crisis being the need to find three prostitutes for a visiting high ranking Government Minister from a little known country of Kumranistan before he signs a $10 trillion loan to build an oil pipeline through Europe.

Where many other political issues could have been successfully used as the climax of the play, lowering the tone to the level it did in regard to the prostitutes was somewhat unnecessary. 

Gratuitous in the extreme and verging on the mildly offensive, it would be hoped that NZ audiences were above enjoying this type of humour onstage which made what initially was an entertaining show one that dropped the ball and played below the bar.

Comments

Make a comment

A timely reminder

Review by John Smythe 04th Jul 2013

From within the quaintly old-fashioned stage conventions of the well-made ‘drawing room comedy’, wherein the actors pace and pose and deliver their key lines full-frontally in declamatory voices, a ripping political satire bursts forth. 

This is not a nostalgic revisiting of the 1980s BBC TV series. The time is now, the issues are contemporary and this cast of Australians plus one Kiwi – each with an impressive list credits behind them – take the roles unto themselves with relish. Sir Humphrey Appleby, Jim Hacker and Bernard Woolley have become British commedia characters able to be transplanted into new scenarios without ageing.

Written by the series originators, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, the stage play premiered at Chichester then transferred to London in 2010 and the Australian premiere was in February last year. Yet the more things have changed in global politics over three decades, the more the internal machinations of the political process remain the same – almost.

We are privy to the British PM’s office at Chequers, his official country residence, at the conclusion of an international conference he has chaired. Jim Hacker’s petty concerns as to his actual status in the wider world, not to mention his security as the PM in a hung parliament, the self-serving Sir Humphrey’s dubious definition of democracy and the bumbling Bernard’s idealism are clearly re-established by the time the first ‘situation’ emerges.  

Kumranistan, a little-known country bordering Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, has discovered massive new oil reserves that could furnish a 10 trillion dollar loan to fund a pipeline project that will resolve Britain’s ever-present financial pressures … provided a few ‘minor’ issues and requirements are confronted and accommodated … Thus the moral dilemmas arise and proliferate.

Jay and Lynn are masters of their craft in the way they extract comedy from the twisting rack of jeopardy, raising the stakes in surprising ways and delivering ‘pay-offs’ from well-planted set-ups.

The territory traversed includes the British antipathy towards the Euro, avoiding accountability, disdain for foreigners who have to be accommodated not least because they are rich, the role of sex in international relations, the credibility of computer modelling (cf: sub-prime mortgages), the proliferation of ‘Tsars’ in the public service, and the fundamental quest for self-preservation-cum-advancement within the constraints of ‘the system’.

Robert Grubb’s suave, mellifluous Sir Humphrey – a Classics major from Oxford – is beautifully pitched, even as he confronts his own vulnerability and potential demise. His flights of obfuscating ‘Applebygook’ garner well-deserved applause and he earns some exquisite moments of stillness and silence, where we all know exactly what he is thinking and feeling. A consummate performance.

The moments of lucidity and strength this 21st century Jim Hacker has – albeit fuelled by Scotch – makes him a worthy ‘opponent’ to Sir H, allowing Mark Owen-Taylor to explore a full range of mental and emotional states. His totally credible fallible humanity compels our empathy, even as we scoff at his inability to make a decision, let alone act, without reference to his advisers.

Along with moral dilemmas I love a good paradox and Hacker’s, “Democracy is driven by the will of the people; I am their leader: I must follow!” epitomises the timeless political conundrum. 

Once I have got used to the accent Russell Fletcher brings to Bernard Woolley (I think it’s Irish and can’t help wondering why it’s not Northern), I warm to his hapless state as the scapegoat and fall-guy, even as the moral fabric of modern society falls in tatters around him.

The new breed of adviser, whose doctorate is actually directly related to political science, is Claire Sutton, armed with folders of stock responses to those pesky and ever-invasive media hounds who keep seeking ‘the truth’. Caroline Craig clearly knows this person – and we do too. She just needs to let her ‘be’ rather than try to spoon-feed us with mugged reactions which subvert her credibility and thus the comedy. Her style is such that my companion and I keep expecting her to burst into song.

As the Kumranistan Ambassador – also Harrow and Oxford educated – David Aston “plays a straight bat” that drives the drama and jeopardy splendidly. By representing the misogynistic values of his country with roundly articulated strength and conviction, he too is a ‘worthy opponent’ and provokes much satire about the more hypocritical British values.

Being the sort of production that requires understudies allows for bit parts to be added (in a way never seen in new New Zealand plays). Laura Maitland is every inch the BBC political journalist Simone Chester – and Timothy Schwerdt, plus a stage manager presumably, man the cameras to give us a live feed of the live-to-air TV interview that climaxes the show.

Mention must be made of Graham McGuffie’s solid set design, able to withstand a good door slam, and the flash effects of Keith Tucker’s otherwise unobtrusive lighting design. It’s a shame the producers feel compelled to augment the actors’ voices with hidden microphones, especially when soundly motivated shouted syllables distort on the speakers, and when the aforementioned declamatory style is the order of the day. Venues like Wellington’s Opera House are designed for dialogue plays and the box set should ensure the voices will carry.

Aside from all that, director Tom Gutteridge has ensured the play achieves it politically satirical purpose. In essence Yes, Prime Minister is a timely reminder that what were are presented with by ‘the machine’ cannot be taken at face value and we must remain forever vigilant if we hope to retain any semblance of democracy.

Comments

Michael Wray July 4th, 2013

I struggled with this play. Where the original television show offered rich satire, this script increasingly favoured farce. Not a patch on the ingenuity of the original. I guess that's the problem; without that comparison, it would probably stand-up okay, but its selling point is very much based on the return of the hit television series and it must suffer in comparison. 

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council
Waiematā Local Board logo