The current cabinet and Matt Hancock outside No 10 watched by Tom Cruise, Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Harry and Meghan in the Royal Box. Pictures: Mark Senior

Spitting Image Live

Birmingham Rep


There could be a danger of spitting, sorry, splitting your sides laughing at this stage adaptation of what was a cult TV series, it is so funny at times.

At other times . . . well, it is bit of a curate’s egg of a show, some parts verging on comic genius, others . . . well, let’s just say not every sling and arrow of outrageous fortune hits the target.

The plot is simple. Britain is a broken entity, being flogged off by the Tories. The fabric of the nation is in tatters, represented by a pair of bedraggled underpants, courtesy of King Charles, so cue regal hell let loose with any politician or celebrity not lampooned left feeling a mix of relief and abject rejection.

Charles employs the diminutive figure of Tom Cruise, he of Mission Impossible, to assemble a Magnificent Seven, to take on the forces of evil controlled by a sort of Blofeld styled character we might recognise as a certain B Johnson in his designer dishevelled outfit with carefully coiffured trademark upturned mop hairstyle.

He is one of four Tory Prime Ministers on show, which is almost a yearful, with Rishi Sunak (PM at time of writing) appearing as head boy, Margaret Thatcher rising as a spectre from the past bemoaning the current lot, the return of the grey man John Major, still bedevilled by his dalliance with the egg lady, and Liz Truss appearing as a lettuce on and off so fast no one remembers her.

Keir Starmer kept popping up like a dose of mogadon to calm things down, while Nicola Sturgeon, her resignation newly worked into the script, gave everyone both barrels at full volume, Jimmy.

Having Elon Musk appear as a sort of Tesla Transformers character was genius while who knew Vladimir Putin could be so much fun as a diminutive song and dance man with Putin on the Blitz (apologies to Irving Berlin).


King Charles with Paddington, who rather than a cuddly bear left at a station, could be a South American drug runner . . .

Strangely there seemed little surprise, indeed more an acceptance, that Suella Braverman was in fact possessed Exorcist style as she shipped off the magnificent seven to Rwanda.

Ant and Dec presided over an X-factor style selection panel for the seven which brought together the likes of Tyson Fury for muscle, RuPaul for not muscle, Idris Elba, the first black, then disabled, then dead James Bond, Angela Rayner, who mention my home town Oldham so she is OK, and muscling in, Meghan who started in the Royal Box with Harry, where seats were going spare (Spare . . . time for Harry to grab a copy and plug the book and repeat same at every opportunity), while Greta Thunberg was included for her green credentials and environmentally friendly bazooka.

We had Carrie Johnson with her talking nipples, don’t ask, and a new take on ride a cock horse – which left every man in the Rep feeling inadequate . . . just saying.

Donald Trump, made an appearance, a difficult job for the creators as he already has a look of a Spitting Image puppet, but, no doubt it was the greatest appearance ever, no one has done an appearance like it etc while Sir Ian McKellen, noted Thespian of this realm, introduced and kept an eye on proceedings, even giving us an actooor’s view on this current Government – it’s short, 12 characters, including apostrophe and space, and I suspect the Conservative Party will not be adopting it as a slogan at the next election.


Meghan and Harry in the Royal Box - just don't mention despair or spare . . . ooops too late "Get your copy now!"

No one was spared, except Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who appeared as the only puppet that was a likeness rather than a grotesque caricature, and as the only serious character. No send up, no jokes, the only moment in two hours of solid offence and mockery that was an attempt at being tasteful, and it generated heartfelt applause that echoed far beyond the stage of the Rep.

Spitting Image is all about offence though. Its original, back in 1984 was ground-breaking and defined careers, Major as the grey man for example, and even affected policies by its relentless ridicule of politicians, with celebrities and even sportsmen also in its sights.

Its relaunch recently on TV suffered from being on a fledgling paid service, Britbox, competing against the likes of free TV as well as Now, Prime, Nexflix, Apple and Sky, and in these careful times it relied more on comedy and jokes than the biting satire of the original.

This Rep inspired stage version released from the shackles of TV has less PC and more bite, taking no prisoners, from the Queen playing a mean guitar in a Royal Family Bohemian Rhapsody to Bush Tucker (check for typos please) Hancock turning up with a giant grub as health secretary as part of the bizarre cabinet ranging from Sajid Javid to a tiny Michael Gove.

It probably competes with productions of  Jerusalem and Glengarry Glen Ross for swear words per minute so be warned, although, I suspect, those easily offended by language or crude imagery are not the likely core audience for Spitting Image.

Rep artistic director Sean Foley, who directs and helped write the production, brought the show together with writers Al Murray and Matt Forde with co-creator of the original Roger Law overseeing the puppets while Alice Power has worked wonders with her quick changing set . . . and the cock horses in a technically outstanding production.

And the huge collection of puppets is brought to life by a team of 12 brilliant puppeteers who got a standing ovation at the end.

If there was a gripe, sound could have been better, some dialogue, especially by certain characters, was lost, although laughter on the other side of the audience suggested the problem could have been localised.

Spitting Image sets out to offend, to be irreverent, to prick pomposity, mock arrogance and ridicule injustice, and, although not everyone’s cup of tea, in a roundabout way Idiots Assemble, Spitting Image Saves the World succeeds, although the current state of our politics, sadly, makes the mission far from impossible. Spitting Image, updated as necessary, will be saving the world to 11-03-23 after which, well,  you are on your own . . .

Roger Clarke


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