A GREAT deal of water has flowed under Westminster Bridge since the first showing of one of our most cherished TV comedies, Yes Minister.
Astonishingly, to those of us who remember those times as if they were yesterday, 32 years have drifted by since the original hugely-influential series was first beamed into British homes.
It, and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister, ran for eight years until 1988, bringing delight to politicians and public alike with their deeply witty and razor-sharp observations of the goings-on in the corridors of power.
The world has undergone enormous and, in many cases, totally unanticipated, changes since those days and a host of new issues, worries and predicaments now confront those in power, whoever they may be. But as a new stage production of Yes, Prime Minister reveals, the daily struggles for the upper hand between elected politicians and their senior civil service advisors are apparently still very much as they were when the characters of Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby first graced our screens in the dim and distant past.
New technology, mainly in the form of Blackberry phones, and the rise of the the special policy advisors (SPADs) are the most significant developments. No surprise then that one of the main characters in this revised version, by original writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn is a SPAD, in the shape of Claire Sutton, played by Indra Ove. She does her best to make sure Sir Humphrey, (Crispin Redman) is not allowed to ride roughshod over the prime minister, played by Michael Fenton Stevens.
Scenarios develop which would never have been possible in the original TV programmes, when Hacker was so often left to fend for himself against the manipulative methods employed by Sir Humphrey.
But fear not, despite this 21st century makeover, most of the old themes and shrewdly-observed characteristics that made the show such a joy, are still very much in place. Most importantly, Sir Humphrey's remarkable habit of answering simply-put questions with rambling, mind-jangling soliloquies, seemingly without pausing for breath, are much in evidence.
There are at least three in the course of this production and, after each, Crispin Redman rightly gets a much-deserved burst of applause in the manner of a jazz musician being congratulated for a particularly well-played solo.
Redman shows a stunning level of skill in mastering and delivering the lines impeccably, without the benefit of being able to take the scene again should he go wrong.
In fact, the whole cast is in wonderful form, and make the roles their own. Fenton Stevens as the under-pressure prime minister whose woes continue to mount throughout the show until he 'loses it' in an explosion of Basil Fawlty proportions, displays just the right level of bemusement, vulnerability and self-preservation.
Ove, a familiar face as Frankie Weston in Holby City, would no doubt make a very good special policy advisor in real life, while Michael Matus as the PM's principled and principal private secretary Bernard Woolley, adds further breadth to the humour as he attempts to deal with a mish-mash of harassment and awkward situations.
Writers and performers of political satire tread a fine line which can be crossed at times and, it has to be said, there are foot-shuffling moments during this production when some of the subject matter creates uncomfortable listening, with sections of the audience obviously unsure as to whether it is acceptable to laugh at the inclusion of some of the more delicate topics.
That said, this is a wonderful update, full of all the ingredients which made the original TV programmes so astonishingly popular.
A mention too for the behind-the-scenes team. The recreation of the splendour of the PM's office at Chequers is so perfect that it could actually be taking place within the walls of that very building. The thunderstorm scene is the most realistic I have ever seen on stage!