Bringing the PM up to date ; We hear from the writers of Yes, Prime Minster about creating a stage version of the popular political comedy 23 years after the TV series came to an end
Starring Tunbridge Wells' own Michael Fenton Stevens, who had a small role in the last tour and who has now been promoted to the lead, Yes, Prime Minister comes to the Assembly Hall at the end of this month.
The original writers of the classic BBC TV series, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, have reunited for this new production with a fresh satirical take on Whitehall.
Prime Minister Jim Hacker and his Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby are back, spinning out of control through the collapsing Euro and austerity measures in a world of 24-hour news, Blackberrys and 'sexed-up' dossiers.Meltdown With the country on the brink of financial meltdown the PM is staring disaster in the face with his only apparent salvation in a morally dubious deal with the Foreign Minister of Kumranistan.
Antony says: It was 23 years since we had last written a script together when we sat down to write the play in 2009, but it might just as well have been 23 days. We just clicked in to the old writing routine as if we had never stopped.
Were the pair wary about writing for characters so closely linked to their well-known on-screen actors? Yes, says Jonathan.
Obviously one of our biggest concerns was whether the public would accept new actors and different interpretations of Jim, Humphrey and Bernard. We didn't want actors who would do impersonations of Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds. In fact we went out of our way to cast it differently. That's why we had ducked writing a stage play for many years, even though many producers had asked us.
But then I realised that so many beloved characters have been recast, like Doctor Who, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes - not to mention Hamlet - and the audience simply accepts a new interpretation by a different actor and treats it on its merits.
The TV series remains popular, with DVDs still selling well. One of it's biggest successes was that it appealed to lovers of comedy who didn't generally think of themselves as 'political'.
It's not political, except in a general sense, says Jonathan. It is actually about government, not politics. Not party politics, anyway.
The leading characters are a master who is less able than his servant. The formula couldn't be older. But I think the most important element of the success is that we love our characters, and we empathize with them all, so that although the story is critical of the way we are governed it is also full of warmth and affection.
The politics have been updated, naturally, to suit the modern theatre-goer and the PM is portrayed as a thoroughly modern politician.
Tunbridge Wells is the hometown of actor Mike Fenton Stevens, best known for his roles in Benidorm and on The Archers, and he's looking forward to taking to his local stage. All my friends and family are coming along, he told Go! And it'll be lovely to walk home after the perfor mances!
I played a minor role in the production last year but the director obviously liked me and I was asked back as Jim Hacker. I just love having 'Prime Minister' on my dressing room door!
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