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All comedy with Tony Blair

Harry Hill's parody musical about Tony Blair comes to Salford and Liverpool
Jack Whittle and Tori Burgess as Tony and Cherie Blair

Audiences are in for a mad treat at The Lowry in Salford (October 2-7) and at the Liverpool Playhouse the following week (October 10-14) when the Blairs are in town, courtesy of comedian Harry Hill.

Harry and his writing partner Steve Brown have deconstructed the reign of the Blairs - not to mention the likes of Mandelson, Prescott and Campbell and world figures such as Princess Diana, Osama Ben Laden, George Bush and Saddam Hussein, in a "colossally tasteless" musical parody of the Blair years. We spoke to the creators about their Frankenstein-like monster comedy...

"We’ve tried to make it as funny as we can," said Harry Hill, the famously high-collared comedian and writer.

"Whenever I go to a musical and it’s described as ‘hilarious’, I sit there, smiling; people laugh, but it’s what someone described to me as a 'theatre laugh’ – it’s not like a big belly laugh. But we’ve crammed this show with big belly laughs. It’s basically a really good, fun night out. Obviously it’s about Tony Blair, but whether you love him or loathe him, you’ll get something out of it."

The show begins with Blair as a peace-loving hippie in a band; then he becomes Britain’s most successful Labour Prime Minister, then he turns into what he is now – basically, suggests Harry, a kind of outcast.

"People have very strong feelings about him," he added. "Blair polarises opinion but we try not to take sides in the show. Well, we do take sides, but it’s not left- or right-leaning; it’s more about the process of democracy and whether we ever get the leaders we deserve."

Hill says he was fascinated by the arc of Blair's story: "It's one of extremes, and we all know it, which helps. There’s also an element of nostalgia."

But what makes Blair's story ripe for musical comedy? "All politicians are really ripe for such treatment, but he’s higher-profile than most - much in the way Margaret Thatcher was. There have been straight dramas that have featured him and he’s been a big part of Michael Sheen’s career. And if it’s ripe for drama it’s probably ripe for comedy because as we all know, comedy is tragedy plus time.

"In terms of it being a musical, in a sense he was the first rock-and-roll Prime Minister. We call it a rock opera, but really it’s a musical comedy; 'rock opera' makes it more pretentious. When Blair came to power there was the whole Britpop thing, which we allude to in one scene; and he’s obsessed with Mick Jagger and the guitar.

"With the music I’m just trying to keep the variety and pace moving. Whoever is singing it, and what’s being said, dictates the style. Sometimes you can achieve a funny juxtaposition: Saddam Hussein, for example, has a number done like Groucho Marx, more or less because Saddam also had the moustache and cigar."

The story isn't entirely fiction: John Prescott and Robin Cook are there (but played by women); Gordon Brown is there of course, as are Princess Diana, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and George Bush.

"Obviously we can’t stick to the exact chronology," said Harry. "but we admit we’re playing with the truth all the way through it, undermined it with a fairly light touch, at least until things go wrong."

For the tour Hill and Brown have cut about 15 minutes from the action: "It’s shorter and sharper," said Harry. "There aren't many things that merit more than two hours – including a break for an ice cream. The way we've approached it, at times it’s more like a cabaret show.

"When we did it at the Park Theatre in London, it was a kind of Labour heartland and there was a cafe opposite the venue with a banner saying ‘Reinstate Jeremy Corbyn’. They absolutely lapped it up, they got all the jokes and often were on their feet at the end. I personally feel that response will be universal, at least if you’re of a certain age. Whether young people will get all the jokes I don’t know – but it’ll be interesting to see. And I think it will do really well the further north we get."

Steve added: "You often get a much noisier reception in the north. The further south you go you tend to get slightly more loud smiling... That’s only a general rule of thumb: one thing we both detest is when people underestimate the intelligence of the audience. Ultimately we’ve just done something that makes us laugh. You just have to assume you’re not the only two maniacs in the country..."

"There’s an open invitation for Tony Blair to come along and half-price for any members of his family," joked Harry in closing. "It is a business, after all.

"I think he’d be heartbroken by it. I’ve made enquiries. I talked to the journalist and presenter, Robert Peston, about it. He knew Tony Blair back in the 1990s, and when I asked him what Tony Blair would make of it he said Blair basically doesn’t have a sense of humour; Cherie might find it funnier..."

More info and tickets here (Salford) and here (Liverpool)


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