tony and di

Tony Blair and Princess Di


(The Tony Blair Rock Opera)

Birmingham Rep


Shakespeare’s view of legacies was that the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones and that could be the epitaph of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

Blair was the most successful Labour Prime Minister of all time, his premiership right up there with the greats of any party, he was charismatic, messianic even, an orator, dynamic . . . he made politics trendy, mainstream, popular.

His legacy should have been landmarks such as the Good Friday Agreement, minimum wage, LGBT rights, devolution, improvements and extra funding in health and education, education, education . . . yet they are all largely forgotten. His premiership was to be defined and remembered for the War on Terror . . . joining forces with George W Bush and the USA in annihilating Saddam Hussein and his regime in a war on Iraq.

Hardly the stuff of comedy, and a musical at that, but then punchlines can pack, well, a punch and Tony! happily batters Tony Blair and his legacy with plenty of laughs even though quite a few punches are swing and miss.

Also taking body blows are his leading cabinet figures, Bush, war mongering Donald Rumsfeld and we even have guest appearances from Saddam and Osama Bin Laden, live from his des-res cave.

We open with Blair on his death bed and the story of his life unfolds around us, his childhood, time at Oxford, joining a rock group and his first job as a lawyer where he meets Cherie, a sort of working class Lady Macbeth figure who could have been a neighbour of the Boswells in Bread.

Jack Whittle is superb as Blair, with the mannerisms and characteristic smile when needed, while Tori Burgess is a delight as Cherie, pushy in the background.

We meet the “Welsh Windbag” Neil Kinnock, someone I once interviewed, so played with a remarkable likeness by Martin Johnston. Kinnock was the favourite to win the 1992 election – he lost and stood down as leader.

His successor John Smith died in 1994 after two years as leader which opened the door to Blair, manipulated by a Machiavellian Peter Mandelson, a simply superb performance from Howard Samuels. Who knew that Mandelson was also a dab hand at balloon modelling. You live and learn.

blair and Mandy

Jack Whittle as Tony Blair with Howard Samuels as Peter Mandelson, demonstrating the carrot and stick approach

Samuels also pops up as the war loving Rumsfeld, who it appears is a Michael Fabricant lookalike, and later, and reluctantly – it was the kilt he didn’t like – as the bagpipe wielding spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

You would be wise to keep out of the way of Rosie Strobel’s John Prescott, whose view of Blair was that as Scottish he was too far north to be a northerner – and would no doubt punch anyone who disagreed.

While we had Phil Sealey as the PM in waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting . . . Gordon Brown who got the job he coveted just as the financial world imploded. Timing was another of Tony Blair’s qualities.

Sally Cheng adds more Scottish angst as Robin Cook, who appears as a sort of cross between Yosemite Sam and Groundskeeper Willie and we even get a touch of royal patronage with Emma Jay Thomas as The People’s Princess, the sobriquet bestowed on Princess Diana upon her death by Blair.

There are plenty of jokes in there, but it is a bit of a scattergun approach, sketches more than narrative, and anyone not familiar with politics in the 1990s and early 2000s might have been a little at sea at times.

There is an element of invention as well, it implies Blair and Brown met at Oxford, except Brown was a graduate of Edinburgh, while Blair and Princess Diana hardly had anything that could be called a relationship. There were rumours a plenty but he was never one of them.

It also almost absolves Blair, suggesting he was being manipulated by Mandelson, the master of the dark arts, on one hand and Cherie on the other, portraying him as a weak character with no mind of his own, moulded and guided in what to do and say, it is almost as if his one thought on becoming PM was to meet his hero Mick Jaggers and the rest was all scripted and decided for him.

Whatever you might think of Blair, and he was and still is a controversial character even after reinventing himself as a world elder statesman with more international pull than any of the UK’s leaders since –he is no fool, no dopey idiot.

He was a smooth and skilled operator and making him out to be naïve political puppet, his strings being pulled by dark forces behind the scenes, loses the point that writer Harry Hill and Steve Brown’s lyrics and music were presumably trying to make. Blair was always the star of the real show, not the patsy.

The story is moved along by the songs though with a three piece band under musical director Oli Jackson spread across the rear of the stage.

So, let’s hear it for Osama and his desperate housewives giving us an upbeat Kill The Infidel and Saddam with a sort of lounge style I never done anything wrong, although the most telling song of the night was probably the finale from Blair himself telling us The Whole Wide World is run by assholes – which, sadly, is hard to disagree with.

As Douglas Adams tells us in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.".

As political sendups go it somewhat misses the mark, it’s no TWTWTW or even Private Eye, but it has plenty of laughs, some brilliantly funny lines and wonderful slapstick moments, it moves at a cracking pace with the cast of nine managing some lightning fast costume changes and it is thoroughly entertaining - even if the Rep sound lost dialogue and lyrics at times.

If you are looking for a hard-hitting political satire then this is not it, but if you want a fun night with a political spin and plenty of laughs, fill your boots. To 10-06-23.

Roger Clarke


Tony! will be rocking up at Malvern 18-22 July 2023 and Derby 12-16 September 2023 

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