Review: Tony! The Blair Musical, York Theatre Royal

First published in Search

If ever there was a head of state begging for the rock-musical treatment, it was Tony Blair.

Tony, the man who settled for being prime minister only after his preferred career as a pop star took a nosedive, who modelled himself at university not on Winston Churchill, but on Mick Jagger, and who had a home-made guitar he called Clarence. He took Bono and Bob Geldof seriously because he saw they wielded a magical influence over the public that mere politicians can only dream of.

And so, with Tony having only just played his farewell gig, the timing of TTBM really nails the zeitgeist on the head.

Quite simply, this is a knockout show. TTBM is showbiz, because Tony was showbiz. It is a lightning-paced gossip rag rampage through the Blair story, packed with great laugh-out loud gags, joyful performances, outlandish camp and sweeping melodrama.

Musically, the currency runs from acid-rock to doo-wop. There's No Me In Tony is a rock-ballad Paul McCartney would be proud of, and with a story so steeped in religion, ambition and betrayal, there are numerous parallels made with Jesus Christ Superstar, musically and thematically.

James Duckworth, in the dream lead role, is outstanding, playing up the well-worn Blair mannerisms while managing to bring necessary humanity and warmth to the part. Ellie Cox, in the Cherie and Princess Di roles shines vocally, while Alex Stevens' yee-hawwing hillbilly routine as George Bush is pure Tasmanian Devil. Chris Bush deserves enormous praise for producing not only a funny script, but genuinely funny lyrics too. The talent at the University of York runs deep.

TTBM is a very affectionate portrayal of Blair, presenting him as a flawed human being rather than a force of evil. There will be many who think TTBM is far too soft on its subject.

Audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe will have the opportunity to make their own judgements when the production travels there in August. TTBM is an unavoidably a political text. Far from being a weakness, it is in fact the company's greatest strength that they have chosen to camouflage complex issues in a vastly entertaining, glossy, media friendly package. Just like Tony.

Paul Lowman

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