The Scotsman 9 March 2011

GIVEN the way government's relationship with the media has developed into a slick, tightly managed operation, it's hardly surprising that we all really want to get behind the public facade and understand how the country is really being run.

This w as in evidence last night as a packed King's Theatre enjoyed a stage resurgence of this much-loved 1980s television sitcom exploring the dysfunctional nature of British politics, told through Prime Minister Jim Hacker's struggle to overcome a reactionary and bureaucracy-obsessed civil service, fronted by Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby and even-handed sidekick Bernard Woolley.

Directed by Jonathan Lynn, the original is given a convincingly modern facelift courtesy of Blackberrys, a Special Adviser, and placing Richard McCabe's Hacker at the helm of an unstable coalition government.

There's an equally perilous economic situation, massive debts, global warming and a tricky European Council conference in need of rescuing, all of which has brought the PM and his public servants to his Chequers residence to find a solution.

The prospect of a $10 trillion loan on offer from Middle-Eastern state Kumranistan, should the UK agree to a trans-European oil pipeline deal, appears to offer that solution, but on the controversial condition that an under-age girl is found to entertain the country's foreign secretary.

Simon Williams gives a brilliantly funny performance as Sir Humphrey, equally comfortable with the acerbic one-liners as he is in evading Hacker's questioning with wonderfully convoluted, dutiful ramblings whenever the need to exert civil service control of the situation arises.

The moderating voice of Woolley in this intellectual battle for control is handled well by Chris Larkin, who brings to the role a kind of subservient goofiness in reeling off impressively bland responses to a probing BBC press officer during the unfolding crisis, or in dreaming up the euphemism "horizontal diplomacy" for their dealings with Kumranistan.

In the second half, writers Antony Jay and Lynn swap the familiar games of cat and mouse between politician and civil servant for a brilliantly absurd finale that will leave you wondering what really goes on behind the closed doors of our political elite.

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