It’s not that long ago “Spitting Image” spat their saucy and sinister satire across the stage of the Birmingham Rep and seeing “Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera” has a slight whiff of deja vu – all over again. Where once well-crafted and designed puppets grotesquely caricatured well-known faces now we have real humans in a plethora of wigs (I believe that’s the correct collective noun for wigs) and a gamut of ‘tashes (same note) enacting a biog of the most polarising premier we’ve had for many a day. But unlike “Spitting Image”, which spoofed the news right up the opening night and revised the show thereafter, “Tony” seems to dwell on yesterday’s headlines and, despite occasional nudges towards the contemporary impact of his decisions, all seems a few years too late.
Nonetheless it’s a vibrant and energetically played show with some great moments, especially in act two, when Phil Sealey dons one of the aforementioned moustaches and gives us a Saddam Hussain who has clearly watched too many Marx Brothers movies, Jack Whittle (irrepressible as the eponymous Blair) and Martin Johnston (as W) singing romantically of their Special Relationship and a rousing finale which momentarily ditches the satire to challenge the audience the words “But you voted for me!” before resorting to a genetic parody but nonetheless entertaining “The World is Run by Assholes.”
Howard Samuels as Peter Mandleson, Dick Cheney and Alastair Campbell had a number of striking moments when the attitude of the performer peeked out impishly from behind the broad parody. Actor, singer, dancer and balloon modeller. Quadruple threat!
The show moved so swiftly actors had little to grasp in terms of characterisation but managed to create a slew of caricatures (that is definitely the collective noun for caricatures) behind various wigs. Tori Burgess was great as Cherie Blair, Rosie Strobel was under used as John Prescott but shone as Osama Bin Laden (I think it was her. Difficult to tell under all that hair), Sally Cheng (as Robin Cook) held her own and, like Emma Jay Thomas and William Hazell, was given a raft of odds and ends with which they bravely completely the picture.
I was surrounded by whopping and clapping folks who were clearly having a wail of time and by the end offered a semi-ovation, but I was left feeling (perhaps because of how inventive and biting “Spitting Image” was) it replaced satire with silliness revealing, perhaps, the creators weren’t truly behind their own message wanting lift up the audience rather than bring down a government.
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 7th June 2023
North West End UK Rating: