Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image the Musical

Al Murray, Matt Forde, Sean Foley
Avalon and Birmingham Rep
Phoenix Theatre

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King Charles and Paddington Credit: Mark Senior
The Royal Family Credit: Mark Senior
Carrie and Boris Johnson Credit: Mark Senior
Stormzy and Tom Cruise Credit: Mark Senior
Angela Rayner, RuPaul, Tyson Fury Credit: Mark Senior
Vladimir Putin Credit: Mark Senior
The Tory Cabinet Credit: Mark Senior
Meghan and Harry Credit: Mark Senior
Ian McKellen Credit: Mark Senior
Sir Ian McKellen Credit: Mark Senior

Not press night, which I gather had Jeremy Hunt and Alastair Campbell in the audience, Friday night is surprisingly quiet, and the actors / puppeteers work hard to involve a subdued audience. Maybe it’s the wrong venue. Or is this sort of thing better on the telly? It might depend on what political persuasion you are, and how many of the talking heads you recognise. Blink and you miss some of them. The sketches on the stage curtain prepare you for what to expect, who will be lampooned.

It’s a show which must keep up-to-date, and inevitably there is some shifting around. But the idea is that it’s a week before King Charles’s coronation (“I will, I will rule you”) and the “fabric” of the nation must be saved. The ‘fabric’ is a tatty pair of Y-fronts, kept in a Royal cabinet, brought in by butler Michael Caine. Now you know which of his films that is referencing...

Tiny Tom Cruise is the one to save the day. A mission impossible—yes all his films get woven into the text—you have to be mentally nimble. And the other underpinning is Queen—Brian May, on electrifying form, makes an entrance right at the end. Our late queen also plays electric guitar and she is terrific. The piss is gently taken out of the royal family. Andrew is not sweating, Meghan is thrilled she is making the West End and Harry, endlessly promoting his book, drives her spare—geddit…

The vitriol—we are warned that there are no taboos and no one will be spared and language will not be censored—is sharp. The material on Boris is ample and he makes a great James Bond villain—he will be king of the world. He also gets a cheer from the audience.

Carrie has talking nipples. Rees-Mogg is a green praying mantis, Teresa Coffey a cigar-smoking maggot, Priti Patel a bat and Suella Braverman a demented, self-pleasuring, ghoulish witch, terrific in Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Rishi Sunak is a needy public school head boy. They make up the S.H.I.T.S. Murdoch is on a poisonous green drip. And Musk is a Transformer.

Cruise’s magnificent seven misfits include Greta Thunberg, Meghan Markle, Tyson Fury, RuPaul, Angela Rayner and Idris Elba (Keir Starmer has a walk-on role and a running joke). They have to “save the nation from a cabal of dark forces seeking to destroy it”—and from James Corden… this misfires a bit. However, they find themselves on a plane to Rwanda…

The evil forces are the Tories, Putin and Xi Jinping (caught in a gay clinch), Mohammed Bin Salman with all the vices and more, Trump in orange prison jumpsuit. Nigel Farage, with low-hanging balls, pisses on the boats coming into Dover and does a Nazi salute every time German or Germany is mentioned.

The baddies call on wizard John Major to save the day. He conjures up Maggie Thatcher to rescue her ‘legacy’. She gets a cheer! This pathetic villainous crew is her legacy. Many jokes hit the spot, but not all. Of course, the Tory power turnaround is so rapid that Dominics Raab and Cummings come and go quickly, as does lettuce Liz Truss.

Huw Edwards gives us the latest 'news'. But why Ant & Dec; why shrieking Alison Hammond? Stormzy is great and Greta is smitten. Adele is a hoot. And Nicola Sturgeon is in a league of her own. Paddington Bear is allowed to drop his Ben Whishaw act and revert to his Peruvian accent.

Gary Lineker is a saint, Zelensky is a force, and RUSSIA in lights is interchangeable with USSR. Putin puts on the Blitz. The Ukrainian anthem is heard briefly, as is "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" and ‘kangaroo court’ gets a passing reference. "Get Up, Stand Up" is the interval song, and Charles sings Queen’s “Mama” and “Scaramouche” to new lyrics.

Many of the musical numbers resonate. ‘Act-or’ Ian McKellen is the MC, and Gandalf and the Archbishop of Canterbury. He quotes Prospero’s "our revels now are ended" speech. We are but nothing in the scheme of things. Don't we wish some of our present leaders would ‘melt into thin air’…

The voices, too many to mention (apparently there are more than a hundred puppets), are recorded. The puppeteers do the heavy lifting, so to speak, I count fourteen, and they are fantastic. Lizzi’s Gee’s choreography helps. The supporting crew credits run to a few pages.

The show was developed at Birmingham Rep, is directed by the Rep’s Artistic Director Sean Foley. He is joined by comedy writers Al Murray and Matt Forde. They are lucky to have the original Spitting Image co-creator (with Peter Fluck), Roger Law, onside. He is listed as Caricaturist Supremo, their “spiritual guide”.

The masks are the best things about the show. Amazing how such static objects have so much expression. If you saw the original TV series between 1984 and 1996, you’ll know what to expect. We are all eligible subjects for satire, and laughter is a safety valve.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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