Monday, April 22

Spitting Image Saves The World – Birmingham Rep

A healthy dose of dissent blended with bucket fulls Hogarthian vulgarity has provided the basis of British satire for many a year and there is nothing more vulgar and satirical and, indeed, British than “Spitting Image” which has been speaking the truth to power without remorse, consideration and, as times, tact since its inception in 1984. Produced at Central TV Studios which used to exist almost exactly opposite the theatre which houses its current incarnation. In its time it was subversive, naughty and very, very controversial these days every other TV show seems to aim and achieve that – so reviving it on stage may seem a bit of a risk. And it is one which Sean Foley as director together with co-writers Al Murray and Matt Forde take to with elan.

Photo: Mark Senior

Twelve buoyant and energetic puppeteers lead their puppets through a series do loosely related sketches as a magnificent seven of popular celebrities group together to save the fabric of British society. The fabric of British society in this case being a mouldy pair of pants. Tom Cruise, Greta Thurnberg, Rishi Sunak and nearly every face you’ll see in your nearest tabloid is riotously given the Spitting treatment. And while some moments dip the highs are particular high including a breathtakingly cruel dismantling of the essence of Tory politics and an unsettlingly, brilliant solo from Stella Braverman portrayed as Reagan from The Exorcist. Nudges and pokes at The Lion King seem a little tame – maybe it’s a puppet eat puppet world at the moment – but when the claws are out they really scar and no more than in the form of “Spitting Image’s” greatest creation (though, not fictional) Margaret Thatcher, who in the hands of trainee magician, John Major, is summoned from the dead for one last vindictive cackle of power. Though not voiced, sadly, by Birmingham’s Steve Nallon so synonymous with role for so many years.

“Spitting Image” is vibrant, scurrilous, vulgar, lewd, outrageous and at times truly apposite, skewing its target with the precision of an assassin and, though many may question whether this kind of commercial fare is appropriate for the Rep, it hits hard at the very administration who may long for its demise and surely there can be not better use of theatre.

Playing until 11th March,

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 16th February 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★