Never sit next to camp followers. Perched on my high bar stool that forms the back row of the cosily intimate Other Palace studio, it transpired that I was alongside a couple of guys, a couple of bottles of wine down, who thought the jokes were so funny that they pre-empted audience mirth with anticipatory guffaws or tried to get the audience to clap along to the vanilla pic ’n mix tunes that pass for music in this exploration of the political maelstrom that we affectionately know as Brexit.
It’s true, the jokes in Brexodus! are funny. Some of them. Not nearly as many of them – or as funny – as the apparent fellow travellers would have us believe. Mind you, perhaps the cackle-monkeys were having second thoughts themselves as they didn’t return to their seats next to me for the second half.
What writers David Shirreff (librettist), Russell Sarre and Frederick Appleby (co-composers) need to do, I would tentatively suggest, is to update the script, by the minute, so that topical stuff of the day could be incorporated into the second half. The show takes us doggedly through, line by line, the whole Brexit process. As such it is essentially a revue and should be treated as such by the writers – they have a wonderful cast here who are busting to escape the shackles of the oh-so-familiar ho-hum narrative and who, I believe, would be well up for a good dollop of ad-lib style improvisation.
For example, on a day that Boris told the world (well Europe anyway) that the EU could “whistle for” the Brexit cash, there was no mention of it. Or of Theresa May’s “relaunch” speech that day. And, despite the wonderful portrayal of PM advisors Nick Timothy (Mike Duran) and Fiona Hill – an immaculate panto-farce performance by the hilarious Scott Jones, Seumas Milne, the Labour equivalent, never warrants a mention despite being plastered all over the tabloids that day. The writers could do worse than visit the Canal Cafe News Revue to glean more how the genre works.
The cast is lead by the slightly portly, shaggy-blond- haired, green bike-helmeted James Sanderson as Boris, a portrayal of realistic caricature (how do you caricature a character that is essentially an actual living, breathing caricature itself?) is big, and brash and bolshy and er… well… blond and takes the opportunity to slip his ’phone number to a lady in the front row. It is exactly that kind of thing that this show needs more of – inter-action with the audience, more fourth-wall demolishment and a licence to extemporise. I was intrigued to see the same actor (the excellent Mike Duran) playing first David Cameron and then Tony Blair: two centrist wallahs battling the extremes of their parties. You could be forgiven for thinking they are one and the same person.
Nigel Farage rocks up of course, effectively played by Paul Croft and, having recently met Michael Gove, I can confirm that Scott Jones (again) gets him perfectly but with some extra added relish of the OTT kind – good revue fare – much more, please! What a good actor this guy Jones is. Airlie Scott portrays (almost) all the females in the show, including, of course, the blessed Theresa, with waspish panache and Sanderson turns up again, inevitably, as some dude claiming to be president of the United States.
Lucy Appleby directs carefully, without ever allowing her company off the leash and Frederick Appleby (no relation), who also MDs, plonks away on the grand in the corner with the inevitable bland pastiches that irritate and amuse in equal measure. A little ambition with an electronic keyboard might add some much-needed oomph to the songs.
With the news now fast becoming actualité-wallpaper there’s not a lot in Brexodus! that we haven’t encountered, heard a hundred times, seen done to death or stultified to its own destruction. It’s vital, therefore, I would suggest, that the show is organic, is encouraged to grow and develop with every performance, giving space for this talented bunch of political impersonators to take it to places and levels that would lift it above the prosaic. There’s the nucleus of a good show here: polish the lamp – and let the genie out!
Review by Peter Yates
When Theresa May triggered Article 50 on March 29th, that might have been a fitting end to the tragicomedy. But it was just the beginning of a fresh series of twists and turns leading to a botched election and yet more political disorder – far from strong and stable.
Brexodus! The Musical is running hard to keep up. As Brexit the Musical earlier this year it covered the period from the Scottish referendum to Theresa May’s first days as a Brexiteer PM. The expanded and updated version follows the continuing misfortunes of the Brexiteers, the election, and the conspiracies of the Bresistance. Will it end in tears? Does it matter?
David Shirreff, veteran writer of four satirical musicals reckons this could be his last. Could he ever find or invent another story as rich in farce as the one we have experienced over the past twelve months? This one, it seems, will run and run.
The crazy history is stitched into a drama of words and music. Boris, Cameron, Gove, Farage, Theresa May, Trump, Putin and many more are caught up in a whirl of banter and comic song.
Brexodus! The Musical
David Shirreff (words), Russell Sarre and Frederick Appleby (music)
Directed by Lucy Appleby (no relation)
The Other Palace
Tue 11 – Sat 15 Jul, 8pm (approx 2hr including one interval)
More information at www.brexodusthemusical.com