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Review of Spitting Image The Musical – Phoenix Theatre

You would think that the British establishment these days is beyond satire. Private Eye and watching Have I Got News for You are often behind the times when it comes to the things those in charge get up to. It must be an absolute nightmare these days to write political or establishment comedy when they do such a good job themselves. The reason I mention all this is because Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image The Musical has just arrived at the Phoenix Theatre, and if anyone is going to take a satirical swipe at life today, then these latex puppets are guaranteed to give it a try.

Ian McKellen in Spitting Image The Musical.
Ian McKellen in Spitting Image The Musical.

The show opens as the curtains part and our Master of Ceremonies – Sir Ian McKellen – starts the story. This revolves around the coronation of King Charles III, which is under threat due to an issue with the fabric of society, which is being undermined by dark forces in the land. After consulting with his most senior advisor, the King decides that rescuing the fabric of society is perhaps an impossible mission, or even mission impossible, so he tasks Tom Cruise to create the U.K.’s very own “Magnificent Seven” of celebrity misfits to save the nation.

Where to start with reviewing a show like Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image The Musical? Well, the writing is pretty good. The basic story is a well thought out action hero-type plot that involves well-known people doing improbable things, often in the most inappropriate way to achieve a goal. The writers – Al Murray, Matt Forde & Sean Foley – must be up late every night reading the papers to incorporate the latest shenanigans among the great and good into the plot, with the voiceover artists – Oliver Chris, Kathryn Drysdale, Jason Forbes, Matt Forde, Luke Kempner, Lorna Laidlaw, Jackie Lam, Al Murray, Shri Patel, Jess Robinson, Debra Stephenson, Ronan Summers – sat with their phones on ready to jump in and record something new at a moment’s notice. Such as adding new elements referencing the arrest of the former SNP leader over the weekend.

And there are songs by Alexander S. Bermange, performed with Lizzi Gee’s choreography, as well. In fact, I can safely say that no matter how often you have been to see a musical theatre show, you will never in your life have seen anything like Carrie Johnson’s elevating solo number in the first act.

As well as writing, Sean Foley also directs the fantastic team of puppeteers – Antony Antunes, Rianna Ash, Katie Bradley, Emily Essery, Kaidan Dawkins, Bertie Harris, Pena Liyambo, Jackie Lam, Bright Ong, Will Palmer, Helen Parke, Rayo Patel, Tom Quinn, Richard Vorster and Faye Weerasinghe – through their paces. With over a hundred characters on stage during the show, they really worked hard and definitely deserved the standing ovation they received at the end of the show.

The real test for us oldies who remember Spitting Image the first time around (Sunday night, ITV) is does the live show manage to capture the spirit of the original? And, on the whole, I would say it does. There is a great range of characters on stage, none of whom is treated with any amount of respect whatsoever. They cover every aspect of UK and US political and celebrity life and will always be recognised, although not necessarily by the same people at the same time, so take along someone from another generation to yourself then you can explain to each who anyone you don’t recognise is. The songs are pretty good and work well in the production, though I’m not sure the significance of the final song in Act I would be understood by many.

Sound, lighting, design, both the set and costume and use of video (Richard Brooker, Tim Mitchel, Alice Power, Lotte Collett and Nina Dunn respectively) really add to the whole experience and make for a highly enjoyable evening. If I’m really honest I do think that Act I was stronger than Act II, and there is a minor problem with using a recorded voice-over in that it can sometimes leave gaps where a laugh was expected by the writers or be silenced when the laughter and applause really is loud – which was a lot of the time.

I’ve tried not to give too much away about the story above, this is a show that is continually evolving and really does have to be seen not be believed. It is huge fun, totally irreverent and takes no prisoners in the lampooning of our leaders and celebrity heroes. Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image The Musical is something to be experienced. It is a space where, as the voice-over warns you before the start of Act I, you have to leave all your wokeness and ideas of what is politically correct outside the door. You have come to see Spitting Image and therefore know what you are letting yourself in for. I had a thoroughly great time from the moment two very glamorous, publicity-shy ex-royals entered the royal box, to the romantic finale which restored my faith in a certain dating app.

All told, I can think of no better way to sum up the experience of seeing Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image The Musical than to rip off this quote from their website, “It’s just like a West End musical but funnier and also doesn’t have Michael Ball in it.

4 stars

By Terry Eastham

Marvel at an all-star cast of over 100 puppets, live in the (latex) flesh.

Watch Tom Cruise as he’s tasked by King Charles with saving the nation from evil forces – that’s all the usual suspects. And James Corden.

There’s songs. There’s dancing. There’s absolutely no respect paid to anyone. It’s just like your favourite musical but funnier and no Michael Ball.

Written by comedians Al Murray, Matt Forde, and double-Olivier award winner Sean Foley (who also directs), this is the must-see theatrical spectacular of 2023.

Direct from a 5-star sell-out run at Birmingham Rep, witness this hilarious extravaganza of a musical, simultaneously inspired and appalled by real events.

Phoenix Theatre
Charing Cross Road, London, United Kingdom, WC2H 0JP

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