Book and lyrics Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, music Richard Thomas
James Baker, Tom Chester and Bill Elms for Northern Ricochet Productions
Hope Mill Theatre
8 August 2019 - 31 August 2019, 2hr 30min
The North West-based producers of the rarely-seen, lewd, rude, outrageous, gratuitously offensive, most-controversial-ever musical announced this revival four months before The Jeremy Kyle Show was axed. But that most tragic episode in the history of British reality TV now sadly lends the fictional, on-stage Jeremy Springer mayhem a relevance well above and beyond previous productions...
As the publicity has always warned, this isn’t a show for the faint-hearted or easily offended and that warning should be heeded.
But for the rest of us, with its Ku Klux Klan chorus line, extreme profanities, gay Jesus and far more blasphemy than many Christians seem able to stand – the BBC had 55,000 complaints when they televised it a few years back – Jerry Springer - The Opera is as wickedly enjoyable now as it was when last seen in Manchester over a decade ago.
It isn’t causing the fuss that greeted it last time. No protestors outside on the first night - protestors who last time caused much of the UK tour to be abandoned. So, we have moved on...
Last time around, the real Jerry Springer talk show was still a prime example of American/Western culture turning trashy. There are far more real-life examples now of course, but this energetic and very funny revival of the mickey-taking musical captures the essence of what was so clever in the original. It points up the clash between high and low culture by using classical-style music linked with unprintable lyrics and a cast of Joe Public participants of cheating low-renters, ready to do virtually anything outlandish in front of the cameras.
And it isn’t just Jeremy Kyle who has made JSTO more relevant than ever before. The show’s fictional warm-up man tells Jerry: “You could run for the Senate, or even president…”. Reality catching up with satire, with a vengeance.
Bland and sanctimonious Jerry (Michael Howe with a totally-convincing TV host persona) and Jonathan, the warm-up man who turns into the devil (Tom Lloyd, with some briliant big moments) bring on the guests bursting to confess their guilty secrets.
There is Dwight, for example (Matt Bond, later also God, with one of the best voices of the evening), sleeping with three people, cheating on his girlfriend with both another woman and a transsexual. And what about Montel (David Burilin), who is turned on by wearing a nappy and doing in it what nappies are intended for.
There’s more in this vein and, just before the interval, Ku Klux Klan members form a chorus line, singing the show’s big Broadway-inspired number, This is our Jerry Springer Moment, rivalling the Springtime for Hitler section in The Producers for its extreme bad taste.
Jerry – spoiler warning, look away now if you don’t know what happens after the interval – is shot at the end of act one and the show itself shoots off from satire to fantasy, with Jerry in hell and Satan and God fighting over his soul.
And so we come to the main question: is the sort of Springer/Kyle TV reality show simply a reflection of society or a moral agent trying to improve matters? Jerry in hell is confronted by the wrecked lives of his guests, just as Kyle was so recently by such tragic outcomes.
"I don't solve problems, I just televise them," Jerry protests. But the writers don’t leave it there. For all their shock and schlock they do finally conclude TV has a moral responsibility - though by then you might have been so battered by the show not to care one way or the other.
Overall, it undoubtedly has many Moments, not all of them entirely successful, and the second half in particular drags in places. But this is a terrific production, the biggest so far for Hope Mill, with a principal cast of 13 and supporting choir of 12. The show practically bursts through the walls and roof, only just about contained on the small square of stage that sits in the middle of the two blocks of seats.
It’s consequently very up-front and in-yer-face, with a sound system of unusual clarity that picks up practically every word, many of which you might not want to hear. You have been warned...