Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera

Derby Theatre


Some lament the turgid fare of contemporary musicals. Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera), by Harry Hill and Steve Brown challenges that stasis.

Charlie Baker takes the lead as the eponymous messiah, channelling Smashy and Nicey into a modern context. The well attended opening night overwhelmingly comprised those who probably voted him in. He is introduced to us on his death bed looking back to the beginning with a funny physical gag showing the moment when he was born.

Although billed as a musical rock opera, in practice it is a smorgasbord of revue, skits, verbal and physical gags and comic songs. The single set stage is simple, featuring a live three piece band and a cast of ten, making it expensive to tour. The production is split into two halves of 50, and 45 minutes, brevity here is a virtue.

Several of the talented cast, in matching Blairite suit and red tie uniforms, double up on characters played, and all of your favourite are present and correct. The script lacks the sophistication and edge of a Ben Elton effort, instead favouring the grotesque caricatures of spitting image. Madison Swan excels as Princess Diana.

Howard Samuels effectively anchors the proceedings as Peter Mandelson with jokes about his sexuality which hover perilously close to homophobia, but Holly Sumpton’s exquisite scouse Cherie Blair is never far away to move things on.

The second act raises the ante on bad taste featuring Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein lamenting I Never Done Anything Wrong together with posters for Assad, Pinochet and Idi Amin. Naturally Alistair Campbell and Gordon Brown get a good run out too.

The rise and fall of Tony Blair is strong source material, unfortunately, subsequently Boris Johnson and Liz Truss easily trump New Labour for duplicity and absurdity. The stakes have been raised again with truth being stranger than fiction. Perhaps that will be Hill and Brown’s next project?

The downside of this production is that its episodic construction means that it lacks narrative cohesion. The upside is that most of the skits are very, laugh out loud, funny , Anyone wanting a good laugh at Tony Blair and New Labour’s expense will not be disappointed. A parody of YMCA using T-O-N-Y complete with dance moves does entertain. It won a standing ovation on this opening night as the curtain fell.

The show continues at Derby until 16th September and then concludes its nationwide tour in Bromley, Manchester and Liverpool to coincide with the Party conference season.

Gary Longden


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