Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] at Leicester Square Theatre
While Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] fuses some excellent caricatures with various musical styles that range from being passable to genuinely enjoyable, a good political satire does require a bit more nuance than is on display here. This creation by Harry Hill and Steve Brown has positives, but it never grows beyond being a burlesque of British politics and Blair’s New Labour.
It would be foolish to say that the musical isn’t amusing – even if too many of the jokes are obvious and done to death – and the performances are frequently delightfully over-the-top and spot-on in depicting the mannerisms of their characters. The issue is that the concept isn’t properly thought-through. We’re left with something that feels a bit more improv than well conceived; it’s ultimately a one-trick pony depicting Blair (charmingly portrayed by Jack Whittle) as a wide-eyed fool who is pushed first into his position as a prime minister and then into the war by people more grounded than himself.
The result is simply not nuanced. Too little room is given to considering the reality of the complicated situations that arose during the politician’s time in government – there was a lot more complexity to the war in Iraq, the milking of Diana’s death for political reasons or his handing over of the office to Gordon Brown, even if these events are condemnable. There are also questions of timeliness: a political piece is never going to be universally pertinent, but Blair hardly feels current or recent enough to be the centrepiece of a musical, unless it’s simply to pander to an audience of 90s and early 2000s enthusiasts.
Thankfully, some simple humour delivers a range of good laughs, and the music, while straightforward and safe, is perfectly entertaining for a night out. Peter Howe’s directing is simple with just a couple of props alongside Blairite suits with red ties by costume designer Libby Watson. The cast is also perfectly enjoyable, from Whittle’s Blair to Howard Samuel’s Peter Mandelson and others, many of whom portray multiple characters.
Tony! does have a valid place, even if it targets a slightly narrower audience. People generally interested in this period of British politics will find much to like, with caricatures that somewhat resemble the puppets in Spitting Image – even if it’s never as good as the absurd title would suggest.
Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is at Leicester Square Theatre from 26th April until 21st May 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the show in its previous location at Park Theatre here: