Photo by Mark Senior

EdFringe 2023 Review: TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] ★★★★

“TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is an adrenaline shot of deliciously crass comedy and spectacularly silly character work. It’s tasteless, but a riotously good time.”

We’ve been stuck in a run of Conservative governments for so long that Tony Blair’s premiership is one soaked in a curious nostalgia with figures like Gordon Brown, John Prescott, David Blunkett and Peter Mandelson feeling like characters from a bygone era of politics. Thankfully, Harry Hill and Steve Brown bring these eccentric figures back to the forefront in TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera], a delightfully chaotic and tasteless high camp glimpse into the Blair government.

The touring version of TONY! launches into a whistlestop ninety minute journey exploring Tony’s transition from aspiring rockstar to Prime Minister. Through original song and comic narrative, TONY! delves into the dynamics within the Labour Party and the defining moments of his government including the emergence of New Labour, the death of Princess Diana, the war in Iraq, and Tony’s fraught relationship with Gordon Brown.

With pantomime level silliness, TONY! delves into Blair’s journey and its key players imaging the star repenting from his deathbed about the ill-judged decisions made under his government, before tracing his story from birth onwards. As actor Jack Whittle arrives dressed in a baby costume then later with makeshift shoes attached to his knees to play a childhood Blair, we get a sense of the approach TONY! is taking. It’s makeshift, silly and scrappy but undeniably funny in its exploration of British history through a tastelessly camp lens.

Portrayals of key figures from the world of Labour are performed with zealous silliness from the cast. Jack Whittle nails Blair’s optimistic tone delivering lines with a childlike excitement, whilst Tori Burgess spins Cherie Blair into a hilarious Cilla Black style Liverpudlian gurl. Whittle is on stage for near the full run-time, keeping energy levels staggeringly high throughout. Howard Samuels as Peter Mandelson is one of TONY!’s key successes, played with the gusto of pantomime villain who manoeuvres New Labour into being key political players. Drag king spins on Robin Cook and John Prescott are wickedly amusing, whilst more nefarious players from history such as Osama Bin Laden and Sadam Hussein are portrayed with a belittling comic silliness – the latter gets spun as a Groucho Marx style villain. There’s an amusing excitement at seeing how Hill and Brown’s script will find ways to capture key characters from Blair’s journey, with figures like George W. Bush, Princess Diana and Dick Cheney even getting a send-up.

The gags come at a rapid fire rate, with a predominantly solid success rate, whilst the musical numbers mirror the comic goings-on. A Neil Kinnock delivered ballad captures the state of pre-Blair Labour, whilst a number between Blair and Emma Jay Thomas’s Princess Diana delivers a pleasingly silly glimpse into the relationship between two British outsiders planted into the establishment. There is also humour to be found in a number between Martin Johnston’s George W. Bush and Blair, about being #1 and #2.

Hill and Brown do an impressive job at capturing Blair’s problematic legacy, TONY!’s depiction of the Iraq war presents a moment of bleakness amongst the camp, whilst closing number The World is Run By Assholes delivers a sing-a-long attack on some of the world’s most vile dictators.

TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is an adrenaline shot of deliciously crass comedy and spectacularly silly character work. It’s tasteless, but a riotously good time.

Get tickets for TONY! here.

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