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TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] at Theatre Royal Brighton

TONY! (THE TONY BLAIR ROCK OPERA) opens with a crash of thunder, recalling The Rocky Horror Show, and you could say that this wicked retelling of Blair’s rise to power has much in common with the latter – except that it is much naughtier and liable to offend those who lack a sense of humour! For everyone else, just sit back in your seats and laugh loud and long at Phil Seeley’s blustering Gordon Brown, Howard Samuels’ oily Peter Mandelson and Tori Burgess’ “common as muck” Cherie Booth/Blair.

TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] Jack Whittle as Tony Blair & Tori Burgess as Cherie Blair ©Mark Senior.
TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] Jack Whittle as Tony Blair & Tori Burgess as Cherie Blair ©Mark Senior.
Harry Hill’s book spares no punches in its snapshots of Princess Diana (a simpering Emma Jay Thomas), Robin Cook ( Sally Cheng relishing that very un p c Scottish accent and bright orange hair) and John Prescott, perhaps underdeveloped as a character but rousingly played by Rosie Strobel. Hill’s writing is at its best in the second half which deals with the Iraq war and its consequences but he is generous enough to remind us that, however unpopular the Iraq conflict now, Blair and New Labour were returned to power after this war.

The first half does not quite have the “pizzazz” that we might expect a “rock opera” to have, dealing, as it does, with the less controversial aspects of Blair’s early life – we are privy to his birth – as well as his rise to prominence and eventually power: the youngest prime minister since the early nineteenth century and the most successful and longest serving Socialist one. After all, as we are told several times, his government banned fox hunting!

In Act Two we meet several American presidents and a very comical Dick Cheney, whom Hill seems to blame for most of the mistakes of the Iraq War. Unlike many musicals (operas?) Hill leaves the very best and most controversial song until the very end: “The Whole Wide World is Ruled by…” which had my colleague almost literally rolling in the aisle as each line is SO outrageously funny! AND VERY, VERY NAUGHTY!

The lyrics and music for this song were written by Steve Brown: always witty and apt, often blisteringly funny, with a few of the songs sticking in the mind after just one hearing, and composed in many different styles, though always with a tongue-in-cheek ROCK core!

What really makes the show so outrageously funny though is the Tony Blair of Jack Whittle. Right from Tony’s birth, Whittle has that ‘fixed’ almost bemused expression that Blair always had, and then there is that SMILE! How does any actor keep that fixed smile for two hours – it never flags! He can also dance nimbly and play the trumpet!

The band of three under Tara Litvack do sterling work, even if the sound design (Richard Brooker) often favours them at the expense of the actors/singers, which means that however good the enunciation (and it is good) important words are lost, and Vanessa White must be congratulated for designing some superb wigs, beards and moustaches for everyone from George W Bush via Neil Kinnock (Martin Johnston) to Saddam Hussein.

A MOST enjoyable and witty show, which, with luck, will offend a lot of people during its tour of the UK which includes not only a visit to Sedgefield, Blair’s constituency, but Salford during the Conservative Party conference and Liverpool during the Labour Party one!

Before then, TONY! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) is at Brighton’s Theatre Royal all this week (60 minutes from London Victoria!) and is well worth seeing.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

The story of how one man went from a peace-loving, long-haired hippy and would-be pop star to a warmongering multimillionaire in just a couple of decades. Throw in a stellar cast of larger-than-life characters – Cherie Blair, Princess Diana, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, Osama bin Laden, George W Bush, Saddam Hussein and Gordon Brown – it’s Yes, Minister meets The Rocky Horror Show! and a musical like no other.
‘Look anyone will tell you, I’m a pretty straight sort of guy.’ Tony Blair

TONY! The Tony Blair Rock Opera is at Theatre Royal Brighton from Tuesday 27th June, 2023 to Saturday 1st July, 2023.

View all shows booking now at Theatre Royal Brighton.

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Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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