Musicals over the years have covered many topics, from revolutions in France, ghosts haunting opera houses, and cats in spandex, but probably the most bizarre paring must be in the form of Tony Blair and musical theatre.
This man’s story is of an Oxford boy going on to become our youngest Prime Minster since Lord Liverpool in 1812 and ushering in New Labour, whilst also being the Prime Minister during several conflicts. Tony is a controversial figure, and this musical doesn’t shy away from that side, but he is also fully characterised in a comedic manner in this musical written by Steve Brown and TV Burp star, Harry Hill.
Satirical musicals based on popular figures are not a new concept. Maggie Thatcher Queen of Gameshows rocked the Fringe a few years back, and Jerry Springer: The Rock Opera ran in London’s West End to high acclaim. What makes these shows successful is that they explore the source material (here a version of Tony Blair’s life), choose some highlights, and then find as many gags as possible that can fit in a show. The character’s personalities are amplified to comic effect, and the audience knows that they aren’t watching a realistic retelling of events, but a loosely based-on reality comedy.
Tony gets the balance right between giving the audience enough history to understand the character's intentions, whilst satirising the individuals for full comedic effect. They similarly do this to Spitting Image in that Tony is taught to point with his hands, Gordon Brown must take long deep breaths during speaking, and the Late Princess Diana has an overly posh accent.
The plot centres on Tony’s life including his reported idolisation of Rolling Stones frontman, Mick Jagger. The show takes this to the extreme imagining that Tony Blair wants Mick to attend his election party. You see Tony’s life go through many ups and downs with the public’s views on the War on Terror shaping the later part of the story.
Jack Whittle who plays Tony Blair is a great caricature of a young Prime Minister thrust into the spotlight. He nails the accent and is very close to the real thing. Although a lot of the script including everything being handed to him throughout his life, is a tad exaggerated, this links well to some of the public’s views of the British Elite. The full ensemble is talented and adaptable, playing multiple roles throughout including Cherie Blair, Peter Mandelson, and even Saddam Hussein.
TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] does however lack in the script department. Having names like Harry Hill and Steve Brown gives the show a real gravitas but feel the show has too many jokes and not all of them land. The plot also at times feels inconsistent and none of the songs are really that memorable. The show is a funny 90 minutes but feel that it doesn’t go over and above this.
TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] runs at Pleasence at the EICC until the 27th of August. Book tickets here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/tony-the-tony-blair-rock-opera