Admirably bad taste: Kevin Brennan reviews 'Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera'
Charlie Baker as anti-hero Tony Blair | Photography by Mark Douet
The actors are engaging, the melodies are lively, and Harry Hill’s script is a hoot
Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is a hoot. That’s probably not surprising given that the script and gags are by Harry Hill, ably supported by Steve Brown’s lively melodies.
Trotting through Citizen Blair’s life from imagined deathbed to cradle and back, at breakneck speed, Hill crams in a remarkable amount of historical detail. As well as Tony, Gordon Brown, John Prescott, John Smith, David Blunkett, Neil Kinnock and Alastair Campbell, all appear. He even manages to remind us that Robin Cook resigned, voting with those of us who opposed the Iraq War, while Clare Short voted in favour, only resigning later. But it’s mainly farce, and there are plenty of in-jokes for the political cognoscenti leavened with enough silliness to entertain those too young to remember every whipstitch of the New Labour saga.
The fine cast aren’t musical theatre song and dance specialist belters but a diverse mix of engaging ensemble actors. The versatile Charlie Baker plays our anti-hero as Bambi rather than Stalin, to use Blair’s own observation of how he came to be regarded in office. There is a fine outing from Holly Sumpton as Cherie, channelling Lady Macbeth into Lady Macblair. Howard Samuels engages the audience as the shapeshifting, fourth-wall breaking, panto villain while playing both Peter Mandelson and Dick Cheney, and Madison Swan is a scene-stealingly hilarious Princess Diana.
Who doesn’t want to see Saddam Hussein played as Groucho Marx?
As political musicals go it’s more Mel Brooks than Lin-Manuel Miranda. There is no song about politics here to compare with the genius of Hamilton’s The Room Where It Happens but plenty of echoes of Springtime for Hitler and Germany in the show’s big closing number The Whole World is Run by Assholes.
Overall the vibe is more student revue for boomers than cutting-edge Broadway blockbuster for the ages, but it’s none the less entertaining for that. Who doesn’t want to see Saddam Hussein played as Groucho Marx?
And in the spirit of Mel Brooks there are plenty of gags about former politicians dead and alive delivered, as they should be in a healthy democracy, in admirably bad taste. It did lead me to wonder whether a similar show could be devised about the current Prime Minister in a world where it has become nearly impossible to distinguish between political parody and political reality.
In the end with any comic production, the key question is: “Did it bring the funny?” The young woman sat next to me in the theatre remarked that her face was hurting from laughing, so, in that most important aspect, Tony! delivers.
Kevin Brennan is Labour MP for Cardiff West
Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera]
By: Harry Hill & Steve Brown
Theatre: Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London until 9 July
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