Harry Hill’s musical takes bite out of Blair: PATRICK MARMION reviews Tony! 


Harry Hill’s musical takes bite out of Blair: PATRICK MARMION reviews Tony!

Tony! (Park Theatre, London)

Rating:

Verdict: Joyfully profane tonic

Dead Lies (Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring)

Rating:

Verdict: The truth will out

All hail Harry Hill and his musical writing partner Steve Brown. At last they have purged me of the pain of those ten long years under Tony Blair’s New Labour — thanks to their gleefully childish and daringly taboo rock opera spoof of Tony’s life. I was laughing so much I struggled to swallow my beer.

Tony! — or The Tony Blair Rock Musical, to give it its full title — is two hours (plus interval, to savour) of vintage comic anarchy created by Hill, the TV comedian famed for his big specs and even bigger collars. From the moment Tony, played by Charlie Baker, is born — a big cheesy grin already plastered on his face — I knew I was in for a treat.

And so it proved, with fizzingly scathing lyrics from the raucous opening title number to Holly Sumpton, sashaying on as a saucy Scouser, singing a cod French chanson Ma Nom Est Cherie.Nor is the show constrained by sacred cows. Like the best satire, it is cruel. 

Tony! ¿ or The Tony Blair Rock Musical, to give it its full title ¿ is two hours (plus interval, to savour) of vintage comic anarchy created by Hill, the TV comedian famed for his big specs and even bigger collars

Tony! — or The Tony Blair Rock Musical, to give it its full title — is two hours (plus interval, to savour) of vintage comic anarchy created by Hill, the TV comedian famed for his big specs and even bigger collars

With trousers round his ankles, Gary Trainor’s Gordon Brown curtly reminds Tony that it’s not image but substance that counts, before he goes on to sing his gloriously preposterous theme tune, Macroeconomics, sucking in breath between lines like an astronaut on a space walk.

The show is so packed with joyfully withering mirth that Baker’s Tony almost gets lost. And yet, that 100-watt grin shines through the thicket of characters who we have long loved to hate.

Howard Samuels is particularly brilliant as oleaginous Peter Mandelson, who mutates into a raving Dick Cheney and eventually a cussing Alastair Campbell in a Tam o’ Shanter.

Martin Johnston also fearlessly pushes his luck, first as Neil Kinnock in an orange toupee; then David Blunkett with rolling eyes and a randy (stuffed) guide dog.

Moving like greased lightning in Peter Rowe’s vaudevillian production, Kaye Brown checks in as the improbably libidinous Robin Cook with a truly ghastly beard; and Rosie Strobel is a hilarious John Prescott, dismissing Scotland as being ‘too far north to be properly Northern’.

Best seat in the house 

The Tempest

Roger Allam whips up a storm as Prospero in Shakespeare’s desert island drama, which also stars Jessie Buckley as Miranda and Colin Morgan as Ariel. Recorded live at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013.

£9.99 globeplayer.tv

 

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Madison Swan delights, too, as the eyelid-batting ghost of Lady Di, who holds Tony spellbound from beyond the grave.

Satisfyingly, Hill and Brown don’t duck the issues of Tony’s four wars (Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq); or his backbenchers trade-off with a ban on fox hunting.

The dagger of anger beneath the cloak of hilarity is finally disclosed in the riotously profane closing number The Whole World Is Run By A********.

Clearly this won’t be to everyone’s taste — least of all Tony’s — and many who voted for him may also find it hard to stomach. But this terrific show is all the better for it.

A very different kind of PM is seeking our vote in crime novelist Hilary Bonner’s stage thriller Dead Lies.

Played by Holby City’s Jeremy Edwards, he’s called Peter George and he’s campaigning on a ticket of truth and integrity for the People First party. ‘No more lies!’, he promises. You could almost laugh, but of course there are skeletons in his closet . . .

Often very clever, but just as often extravagantly ludicrous, Bonner’s plot needs a good deal of pruning. She isn’t helped by Joe Harmston’s awkwardly staged production, which reveals Peter’s 25-year-old crime in overhead projections from the off. For gawd’s sake, keep us guessing!

Much the most interesting character is Alicia Charles as Peter’s ambitious American Press secretary, Kate, who drives both him and the plot.

Portia Booroff is a ticking bomb as Peter’s submissive wife, Jo. And although Andrew McDonald’s shabby Fleet Street hack looks the part, he’s subject to a highly implausible plot twist.

As for Edwards’ party leader, I couldn’t figure out if he was too good to be true, or too true to be good. Either way, as a portrait of a man who thinks he can get away with anything, his hour has certainly come.

For tour details, see deadlies.co.uk

Gary brings it all back home… to Frodsham

Gary Barlow… A Different Stage (Frodsham Community Centre, Cheshire)

Rating:

Verdict: Take a ride on a star!

The big question in the Cheshire market town of Frodsham at the weekend was not only what the ‘GB’ on the jubilee bunting really stood for, but whether the 1960s-built local community centre was capable of containing the excitement generated by the return of Frodsham’s most famous son, Gary Barlow.

For three nights only (and one matinee), the Take That superstar had the (mostly female) audience of 216 jiving in the aisles and generally eating out of his hand, as he related the highs and lows of his life in songs and stories.

The one-man show (slickly scripted by Tim Firth) recalls Gary’s childhood on Ashton Drive in the 1970s, and early gigs playing Phantom Of The Opera in working men’s clubs, before Manchester impresario Nigel Martin-Smith snapped him up to become part of Take That, alongside Robbie Williams and co.

The band’s glory years of the 1990s followed — until Williams went his own way and Gary’s attempt to go solo turned to tumbleweed in New York. 

For three nights only (and one matinee), the Take That superstar had the (mostly female) audience of 216 jiving in the aisles and generally eating out of his hand, as he related the highs and lows of his life in songs and stories

For three nights only (and one matinee), the Take That superstar had the (mostly female) audience of 216 jiving in the aisles and generally eating out of his hand, as he related the highs and lows of his life in songs and stories

He makes light of blows to his ego and his soul-eating envy of Williams’s solo success. But even as the demons of self-loathing were circling, worse, much worse, was to come: the death of his dad, Colin; and then the loss of his baby daughter Poppy.

Moving as these tales are, Gary is clearly most at ease when sitting at the keyboard. And when he’s singing, he comes alive. Moving away from the piano, perching on the edge of the stage to deliver an intimate rendition of Rule The World, he has that showbiz gift for making everyone in the room feel like he’s singing straight to them.

Out came the Kleenex; up went the cheers of ‘Come on Gary!’ from the ladies around me, including members of his mum Marge’s local choir.

What a delight it was to be swept up in such a blissful local reunion. Watch out for dates in York this week and the West End in September.

PM

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