‘Standing ovation at Tony Blair Rock Opera unites Derby Theatre audience in collective mockery of politicians’

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The show is an exhilarating ride taking swipes at politicians left right and centre, appealing to anyone who has a keen sense of humour but not necessarily an interest in politics

I did not have ‘applauding Saddam Hussein on opening night’ on my bingo card but that is the nature of TONY! The Tony Blair Rock Opera show - anything goes.

The Tony Blair show created by Harry Hill and Steve Brown focuses on the controversial premiership of the youngest prime minister of the 20th century.

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The acclaimed comedy-drama, described as the love-child of Yes Minister and The Rocky Horror Show! is enjoying sell-out runs in theatres across the country including the Park Theatre London.

It revels in ramping up political intrigue, religion and romance to devastating effect.

The show started with a booming thundercrack loud enough to make the audience gasp in surprise.

This set the tone for the audience reaction throughout the show which saw plenty of exclamations including those of astonishment, shock and laughter.

We first meet an aged and grey-haired Tony in ailing health, as he is encouraged to profess his sins on his deathbed.

As he takes a retrospective look at his life, he takes the audience along with him in a reverse ageing process as we chart the success and downfall of Tony Blair.

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It was always going to be difficult trying to squeeze into a 120 minutes-long show, 13 years of a life in public office which saw Tony Blair serve as Leader of the Labour Party.

The rip roarious show thankfully highlights key moments to great comic effect and this is down to the incisive writing and brilliant cast.

People familiar with Harry Hill’s work will expect the writing to push boundaries and be unafraid of causing offence.

I am a fan of the comedian’s writing and could see flashes of pure Harry Hill in scenes including one where Tony Blair is born, which was slapstick bordering just on the verge of being cringeworthy.

Jack Whittle playing the lead Tony Blair, replete with rictus grin deserves an award for keeping that face-aching smile plastered to his face in nearly every scene.

Phil Sealy’s Gordon Brown is a scene stealer, whose depiction of the economically astute Chancellor is pitted against the gormless, narcissistic Tony Blair, highlighting both of their shortcomings.

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There are so many personal highlights including scenes that will stay with you long after the curtain has dropped.

Tori Burgess’s Cherie Blair is a joy to watch, as the heroine with gumption who eventually settles into a role that doesn’t involve the limelight - that is strictly reserved for her power-hungry husband.

Martin Johnston as Neil Kinnock, Rosie Strobel as John Prescott and Emma Jay Thomas as Princess Diana all elicit belly laughs from an adoring audience.

Scene stealers come in the form of Howard Samuels’ Peter Mandelson, whose take on the Prince of Darkness made for some of the best scenes of the night including one which bizarrely involved a balloon-shaping stint.

Additional characters portrayed by the company include Alastair Campbell, Liam Gallagher, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, whose clownish cigar-juggling act made the show all the more outlandish and who got one of the loudest cheers of the night.

Yes it was great fun to watch, however the show is more than just entertainment or a loosely-based history lesson.

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Historians or those who grew up in the Blair years will have numerous cases of déjà vu as they recall real-life events whilst watching a hilarious interpretation on stage.

I recall the Blair-Brown Granita dinner, which is reported to have sealed the fate of both men, being referenced in the news.

It was fascinating to see its depiction unfold on stage which involved both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown don wrestling gear to battle it out.

Tony Blair Rock Opera takes a swipe at the political classes and ultimately unites the audience in collective mockery of politicians.

No one is safe from the firing line.

Political figures who pounded the corridors of power are the subject of giant crater sized potshots.

Even the audience is gently chastised as Tony Blair reminds us in a searing soliloquy, that it was us, the public, who put him back in power after he was re-elected in 2005, two years after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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Amidst the hilarity, Tony Blair’s mutation from gormless wannabe to stupid war-mongering prime minister is difficult to stomach as the show serves as a reminder of the war in Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

It is a thoughtful production which saw the cast being given a standing ovation, and one which I will be booking to see again.

TONY! The Tony Blair Rock Opera is showing at Derby Theatre until Saturday September 16.

For more information or to book tickets please visit their website here.