TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera], Bath Theatre Royal and touring

HARRY Hill and his Bath-born co-writer Steve Brown first envisaged their Tony Blair show as a jukebox musical, but, as Hill hated the genre, it turned into a musical tragi-comedy with original (if derivative) song and dance routines, aimed at putting the “party” into politics. Back in 2020 he hadn’t reckoned on Badly Thatched Boy doing that for him!

Covid stepped in, and the show began virtually, before its sell-out season at the Park Theatre in London last year.This first UK tour continues in Bath at the start of an 13-venue flit round the UK ending in Salford for the Conservative Party conference, and the following week at Liverpool for the Labour Party annual get-together.

The show has the strong flavour of a Fringe concoction, and what’s wrong with that – look at SIX. Bookended by the death of the creator of New Labour (no, don’t fret, you didn’t miss a moment … the real one is 70 and alive and kicking), it’s a whistle-stop musical tour of the life and times of Tony and Cherie. Jack Whittle gives a sensational performance as the gangly lad chosen more for the look of him than any real substance. He is seen as an arch-fan, as easily excited and energised by Mick Jaggers (sic) as by Dubya and his war games.With the determined Cherie (Tori Burgess) at his side, and a very useful endorsement by The People’s Princess (after all, he coined the name), Tony’s control of Labour continued.

We have lived through extraordinary times, and for a decade from 1997 we were ruled by the Blair government. This show brings all the characters to (often caricatured) life, and some of them are like meeting old friends. Howard Samuels is the smarmily controlling Peter Mandelson and Donald Rumsfeld, Sally Cheng the improbable adulterer Robin Cook, Rosie Strobel the vulgar John Prescott, BOVTS graduate Phil Sealey the perpetually-striving Gordon Brown and Emma Jay Thomas has Princess Di’s tilt-headed manipulation to perfection.

You won’t know the songs, so you can’t sing along – although there’s a palpable urge in the audience to get involved in the more rallying moments. This is a “whooping and standing-ovation” sort of show – with lots of broad comedy, some clever satire and bags of energy. And it ends with an anthem explaining why the world is in such a state, followed by an unanswerable question.

In summer in the “old days”, theatres across the country were filled with multi-bill shows headed by television and stage stars doing their variety thing, dwindling down to new acts and has-beens. With the exception of Sidmouth, where a summer rep season continues, the “summer season” is over. Post-Fringe type musicals provide a happily energetic and immersive alternative, and if they make you think along the way, so much the better.



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