Saturday, September 30

TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] – EICC

Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera is a modern rock opera that sets out to tell the story of the ex-prime minister who modernised Labour and catapulted them to new heights with his ‘New Labour’ landslide election victory in 1997, ending 18 years of Conservative government.

Like Tony Blair himself, this production has good points, and bad points.

It is probably forgivable and understandable that this show steers clear of outright satire, after all, Blair is still alive and has very, very deep pockets. Some parts of the script actually make comic reference to this! Unfortunately, this lack of bite made for an enjoyable, but perhaps ultimately unedifying evening. More Spitting image than Question Time but then again what do you expect from writer Harry Hill!

We start the evening, with a glimpse into the near future, with Blair being wheeled out, prostrate, on a gurney surrounded by his acolytes. Blair, inert like Frankenstein’s monster, with his Methuselah-like grey-haired head to the audience. Is he dead? Not quite, and in a whispered confessional to priest, Peter Mandelson, we look back on his life and follow his rise and fall and question whether he should receive absolution for his sins.

From the moment he is ‘born’ onto the stage Jack Whittle is a revelation as Blair, with his characteristically toothy smile and perfectly captured mannerisms. In a sketch that has all the trademark humour and silliness that Harry Hill, is famous for, The ‘Birth scene’ sets the level of whacky irreverence that follows, and it is very funny indeed.  

There is also brilliant ensemble support. No more so than the hilariously air-consuming Gordon Brown played to perfection by Phil Sealey, the always-the-bridesmaid, tricked out of the top spot right up until the point that the poison chalice is brimming over.

Peter Mandelson, is never far from the action, played by the wonderfully sleazy Howard Samuels, or hilariously as a Blood-sucking vampire (amongst his many characters).

Not forgetting Rosie Strobel as the irrepressible John Prescott, the big Northern lad, always ready to get the pints in, if he is not trying to knock you out.

Tori Burgess’ Cherie Blair is hilarious, particularly as she outlines future labour policies in a vigorous love-making scene with Tony, where she is thrown around like a blow-up doll. One of the undoubted highlights and for me the funniest scene in the whole show. Who knew Tony was so strong?!

What works much less well are musical numbers featuring Osama Bi Laden and Saddam Hussein (in Groucho mode complete with cigar), which might fit well with the story, but come across as crass and poorly judged, went down like lead balloons.

Magpie-like references to other musicals; Book Of Mormon, Cabaret, Les Mis, a hint of Fiddler, a splash of this a pinch of that, do nothing to detract from the enjoyment. All-in-all a piece that pokes fun at the ‘Musical’ genre, that perhaps doesn’t say anything new (or defamatory!) about Tony but does manage a good number of laughs along the way.

Oh! And the seats are super comfy! Always a plus at Fringe time.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 18th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.