HARRY HILL TAKES ON TONY BLAIR. FIIIIIIIGHHHT!!!!
I couldn’t be more delighted that it’s touring, this splendidly rude show. We need this kind of merrily offensive burlesque, in the burlesqueable times we live in. Even though actually it is set in the comparatively sober era of Tony Blair. So I repeat my review, adjusted for how it feels on a proscenium rather than the intimate wraparound of Park Theatre.
Its spirit is of cheerful contempt and joyful pastiche. It’s a Sweeney-Todd sound that opens the show: “`Prepare! To be made Aware! Of the most successful Labour Premi-er! Now a Millionaire!”. A deathbed scene book-ends the show as Blair’s life develops and musically it slides away from this brief Sondheimery into – a wild gallimaufry of music: rap and tap, ballad, high-school cheerleader rom-com moments, Lehrer, Handel, and when Gordon Brown explains economic theory (rather nostalgic, the sheer good sense of it) a booming hymn with church-organ. That Harry Hill is the writer explains the rumbustious irreverence of it, but Steve Brown’s tunes and lyrics are much of its glory.
It is an absurdist but pinsharp demolition of the personality and pretensions of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair (Charlie BAker, grinning for England). This is always topical, for he is still forever sidling into the limelight telling the world how to behave. There’s real contempt for spin, vanity, the Iraq invasion and the grinning PM’s treatment of poor Gordon Brown with his basso-profundo and tartan underpants (GB doesn’t care about trouserlessness “politics isnt about image”. There are sparkles of rage amid the glorious Hill jokes and barbed, carefully finessed and divinely silly rhymes.
Here is the walk-on-water smugness, the innocent grin, Ugly Rumours, the conversion to Labour in a masterful Cherie’s arms, the TB-GB rivalry neatly depicted in a boxing ring, the oleaginous Mandelson (Howard Samuels enjoying the job of both narrating and managing, and offering a wicked death-of-Diana moment by manipulating a balloon-dog with great skill to show how New Labour can “shape the grief, harness the grief and ride it back to No.10!”.)
Its conclusion daringly veers from the sharp hard solemnity of the 100,000 deaths in our illegal war’s alliance, to a challenge to the audience (“you voted me back! Yes, after Iraq!”) . It concludes with the triumphant chorus “The Whole Wide World is run by assholes”, with names and pictures of the world’s tyrants and pretenders from il-Jung to Hitler, now reversing to a massive shot of Putin, the kind of them all.
Altogether a pleasure, a schandenfreude toybox. The moment when Gordon Brown at last gets the hot seat and picks up the phone to the news of Lehman Brothers is magic and the global politics, guyed with a viciousness few satirists do so well, include Dick Cheney ’s “What would jesus do – bomb every last motherfucking one of them!” and how poor Saddam Hussein moaning on the phone to Bin Laden about the stupidity of “rattling their cages”, before skipping into a self-exculpating neo- G and S number – “I didn’t do anything wrong” . Bin Laden meanwhile sings that there’s “only one thing I detest – the entire population of the west! So unrepressed!”.
Leicester Square Theatre till 25 May
BUT TOUR DATES till 14 Oct nationwide: tonyblairrockopera.co.uk