REVIEW: Yes, Prime Minister - Lyceum Theatre, by Peter Kay

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THE political landscape has changed markedly since Yes Minister was first broadcast in the early 80s, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

It was reputedly her favourite TV programme, brilliantly portraying the locking of horns between minister Jim Hacker and permanent secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby in the fictional Department for Administrative Affairs.

The minister moved on to become Prime Minister, and writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn have now adapted their creation for the stage, with Simon Williams, above right, taking the civil service role performed so memorably by Nigel Hawthorne and Richard McCabe, above left, stepping into the similarly massive political shoes of Paul Eddington.

The stage production has been appropriately updated with the introduction of blackberries and Twitter, references to a coalition agreement and, most notably, a special policy advisor, played by Charlotte Lucas, whose job is to act as a shield against the civil service.

There’s even a scenario of the need to bail out Greece, Spain and Portugal amid the financial meltdown that threatens to bring down not only the UK economy, but also, God forbid, Hacker.

Yet all the familiar themes soon emerge - a distrust of foreigners, the hatred of the euro, the murky world of leaks, the targeting of the BBC and, above all, the cat-and-mouse games played between government and civil service.

It’s all played out superbly against a backdrop of the PM’s country home of Chequers and a storyline of trying to save a dodgy deal with the oil-rich country of Kumranistan after it emerges that its foreign minister is insisting one of the conditions is finding an under-age girl to satisfy his desires.

Williams excels as the Machiavellian permanent secretary, never afraid to use a dozen words where one will suffice in an attempt to bamboozle and divert, yet always vulnerable to the ultimate threat of civil service reform.

McCabe has mastered many of the political arts and craftiness, but starts to unravel to glorious effect as the practical and moral obstacles to obliging the randy representative of Kumranistan start to mount up, eventually turning him into a Fawltyesque character.

Chris Larkin, too, hits the spot as dithering principal private secretary Bernard Woolley, persistently caught in the crossfire and the one usually called upon to do the tricky or dirty business.

It’s a comedy that elicits plenty of chuckles as a knowing light is shone into the dark and labyrinthine workings of Whitehall, but it also raises some interesting moral issues in the context of clashes of cultural values. Things are not always as straightforward as you might think, but there is always something to laugh about.

Yes, Prime Minister continues at the Lyceum until Saturday.