Yes, Prime Minister
The King's Theatre (run ended)
It takes massive balls to follow in the footsteps of Nigel Hawthorne. Now I know why Group Captain Gilmore's men call him ‘Chunky’.
A touring stage show of a twenty-year-old political satire? That's never going to work, surely? Well... yes and no, Minister. Original series writers Anthony Jay and Jonathyn Lynn deliver the same crackling character-driven dialogue as before, and it is wonderful to behold. But occasionally—just occasionally, mark you—it becomes apparent that the state of political satire has moved on since the 1980s, and Jay and Lynn may have failed to move with it.
It's Chris Morris' fault, of course. There's only one man who can make child prostitution funny, or Anglo-Arab relations in a world beset by Islamic terrorism (and even he can only do it when Armando Iannucci is producing). During the 1980s it was possible to make a gentle comedy of manners about the terrible things that happen in politics: now it's necessary to refer to the the giant elephant in the room about illegal wars and thousands of needless deaths. A proper satire should skate along the uncomfortable, but this crossed the personal line of everyone I spoke to. It's brave to make the attempt, but it shouldn't be surprising that the show is most successful when it more closely emulates the original series.
Let's talk acting. Characterizations range from absolutely bang spot-on (the aforementioned massively-genitalled Simon Williams as Sir Humphrey) to bloody good with certain caveats (an interesting choice by Chris Larkin to play Bernard as much less hesitant and impressionable than the Bernard we're familiar with). Richard McCabe deftly navigates a narrow corridor between the Jim Hacker of old and that oleaginous fuckface we're currently lumbered with as the (sadly real, non-fictional) Prime Minister. (I wonder how much of a problem this was for Paul Eddington: navigating between his own character and Maggie.) Charlotte Lucas excellently plays a competent policy advisor to Hacker's PM, but alas she's given the sort of character who, like Frank Weisel in Yes, Minister or Dorothy Wainwright in Yes, Prime Minister, would be quietly dropped after a few episodes for lack of anything interesting to do.
On which note: the plot. It would fill a half-hour episode or even a newfangled fifty-minute episode very neatly, but at two hours it tries to do too much. Entire scenes and at least one character could be excised: the BBC Director-General appears for a while to bluster about government interference in broadcasting—clearly one of Jay and Lynn's pet subjects, given the number of times that identical dialogue appeared in the TV series—and to agree to an interview that forms the climactic scene of the play, which could alternatively have been arranged by a single line of conversation somewhere. It's important to pile multifarious and myriad pressures upon our beleaguered PM for the surprisingly effective payoff in the second act when it all degenerates, or rather develops, into farce: but it could have been done more tightly. And as observed above, there are some lines you don't cross in light comedy. Child prostitution, sex trafficking and the mounting death toll in Afghanistan are three off the top of my head. Had the play not deliberately and with malice aforethought crossed those three lines in succession, it would have been the length it deserved.
As a revival show for a well-loved cult comedy, even one with a few contemporary jokes thrown in, it's brilliant. As a current satire, sadly, it fails. As a feature-length pilot for a new series?... I'd commission it, but I'd keep a close eye on it for improvements.
I've had my obligatory obscure Doctor Who reference for this post, so this one's a free bonus. Watching this was just like the TV Movie. It was glorious to have it back just for one evening, but still it wasn't quite right.