Yes, Prime Minister star on stage show relevancy
January 30, 2013
IT’S SPOOKY, as actor Michael Fenton Stevens points out, but the stage version of Yes, Prime Minister is more relevant now than when it was written three years ago.
The writers of the hit play based on the popular 1980s TV series, which kicks off its national tour at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre soon, were uncannily accurate in their political predictions. “When Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay wrote the play the Eurozone seemed stable, the banking system had yet to collapse and Labour was in power,” said Michael, who plays beleaguered Prime Minister Jim Hacker.
“In the play banking is in a mess, the Eurozone is in crisis and a coalition government is in power. There’s even a line where Bernard tries to warn the Prime Minister off, saying ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,’ and the response is “Well, the Greeks can’t afford gifts’. It also has a dig at the cosy civil service – the ‘we are here for life’ attitude, and I think that will resonate with today’s audiences.
“I am really looking forward to doing it in front of an audience. There are so many fantastic jokes in it that people will absolutely get. It’s a great actor’s part and I have the chance to bring my own style to it as well as capitalising on the tremendous fondness for the show that endures from the original TV series.
“You might have thought that now that we have political satires like The Thick of It, it could seem dated but it isn’t the case, it isn’t a period piece. I think there is a new audience for it. Despite what people think and what voting panels suggest I do think a lot of young people are interested in politics I just don’t think the way it is set up suits them.”
Michael admits that he is quite a political animal himself. “I’m very interested but feel rather disenfranchised at the moment. I couldn’t possibly say where my loyalties lie but I’ll give you a hint – I’m definitely not a fascist. Part of the joy of Yes, Prime Minister is that it is not quite clear which party is in power. Without doubt Tory voters who come and see it will say they could tell it was Labour and Labour voters will say the reverse.”
A former law student, Michael was acting for fun when he was interviewed by Angus Deayton at the Edinburgh Festival. He was asked to do a revue and that led to the 1980s BBC Radio 4 comedy series Radio Active. It was the start of a career which most recently has seen him in TV dramas including Mrs Biggs and Not Going Out and was a move he has never regretted.
“Well, okay, just occasionally I do when I think about index linked pensions,” he says. “Perhaps I could have been a circuit judge, but I’ve had a nice life. It’s been incredibly varied, from panto to serious plays, and it has never, ever felt like work. I once stood in the wings for the very first Comic Relief, waiting to join Bob Geldof and Midge Ure on stage. Kate Bush was next to me and she turned round and said ‘It’s exciting isn’t it?’
“My life has been full of great moments like that and I’ve managed to have a happy marriage and a lovely family and now I’m a grandfather as well. Oh, and I’m doing The Archers! My wife’s a big fan and she was a bit annoyed. She said I’d spoil it for her”.
Yes, Prime Minister runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from Thursday, February 7 until Saturday, February 16 and is sponsored by Stackhouse Poland. To book, call the box office on 01483 440000 or visit www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk