Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera
Park Theatre, London until July 9
While Boris Johnson’s period in office has never risen above the level of low farce, Harry Hill and Steve Brown rightly see that Tony Blair’s has about it a grand operatic quality.
Their Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera begins, like Evita, with the death of its central character. It then flashes back, as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice did, over the defining moments of the political leader’s life from the very beginning. Indeed, we are subjected even to Blair’s birth, emerging from the legs of Kaye Brown (she plays a number of roles, including Robin Cook) in the form of a forever smiling Charlie Baker.
I should say immediately this is a colossally tasteless show. There are jokes about David Blunkett’s blindness (his part, among others, is played by Martin Johnston); Princess Diana’s death (Madison Swan on great form); and Iraq, a segment in which my New European colleague Alastair Campbell is played by a kilted Howard Samuels, who also plays Mandelson. There is more than a hint of homophobia, incidentally, in that performance.
Still, the production is, taken in its entirety, highly entertaining. It certainly deserves its exclamation mark.
I suppose any work about Blair’s life – or, for that matter, Margaret Thatcher’s – has a special appeal to the late baby boomer generation, since, whatever we might have thought of those two individuals, the zeitgeist is always appealing as we were all younger then and life certainly seemed a lot simpler than it is now. Hill and Brown understand that those of us who have grown up at all in the intervening years now look back on this age of innocence that lionised Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter and Jimmy Savile with a degree of ruefulness.
Brown’s lyrics and Peter Rowe’s brisk direction make it impossible to get bored for a single moment and some of Hill’s lines – Neil Kinnock (Johnston again) saying “just because you attended Eton doesn’t mean you can’t be beaten” are funny, but also tragic. There is more anger, passion and insight to be had in just a few minutes of this show than any number of hours sitting through a James Graham political play. It ends with a rousing chorus of a song that says the world is led by “arseholes,” and, in the current circumstances, I found it hard to argue.