It’s practically a Mission Impossible: have a great night out whilst laughing at the scandalous state of the British Nation. Come on! Things are currently so awful they’re heartbreaking! But with the help of a tiny Tom Cruise and a parade of puppet pals, a night at the Phoenix Theatre will actually leave your face aching with laughter and draw tears from your eyes (for more than one reason). Yes, Spitting Image is back in town with an outlandish new show, Idiots Assemble.
Boris Johnson plans to snatch King Charles’ crown at his coronation and become king himself, helped by his simpering sidekick Rishi. Charles calls on Tom Cruise to assemble a crack team to save the day, battling Boris and his villainous cronies. What follows is a riotous, side-splitting adventure as the two sides fight for the crown.
Skilfully masterminded by director Sean Foley, this is a massively complex production containing little that isn’t perfectly polished, and the script intertwines unlikely characters and events to constantly surprise and even shock. It has all your favourite (and most hated) characters, from Sir Ian McKellen to Ru Paul, to that Thatcher woman (*shudder*) to a coked up Paddington Bear: they’re all there, imaginatively reinvented.
Multiple vocal contributions from the likes of Kathryn Drysdale, Al Murray, Matt Forde, Oliver Chris and Debra Stephenson are brilliant, but sadly pre-recorded. Utmost credit goes to the team of extraordinary puppeteers who execute tremendous full body performances to this fixed soundtrack. The jeopardy involved is almost tangible. With over 30 puppets in the show, these crack puppeteers have certainly got their work cut out, yet they are exceptional. Using everything from rod puppets, to half-body, to full skins and even a giant lettuce, this is a masterpiece of design and execution, under the guiding hand of the person with the best job title in the business, Puppet Master Scott Brooker. Each of the rubbery-faced characters is formed to perfection, with the signature Spitting Image look and expert use of materials to make ears flap, hair waft and penises droop through their own momentum (yes, there are giant, adorable penises!).
Tim Mitchell’s lighting design is bold and far-reaching, tying the audience into the action. It’s complemented by exciting pyrotechnics plus excellent video design by Nina Dunn for Pixel Lux. Eclectic sound design by Richard Brooker brings extra exuberance to an already full-on performance and is supported by a range of clever comedy numbers from Composer and Musical Director Alexander S Bermange. Putin’s rendition of ‘Putting on the Blitz’ will stay with me for days. Shall we talk about the meticulous choreography from Lizzi Gee? It is glorious, making impressive use of a busy stage alongside sometimes moving objects. The energy is huge and propels the production along like it’s shot from Zelenskyy’s machine gun.
But this is satire, and beneath the laughter there is recognisable truth. Some moments are hilarious, like a possessed Suella Braverman spinning demonically at UK Border Control. Others are uncomfortable, as they should be. A video sequence describing the Tories’ ‘Dark Magic’, their lies and deceit at the expense of the British public, is a hard watch. In a moment we’re wrenched from tears of laughter to tears of anguish. Thatcher’s legacy indeed. But such truths are at the core of the story and essential.
Life is tough for many today, and humour helps in facing our difficulties. This is also a time when people are cautious about expressing opinions in case they’re shot down: satire exposes you to attack. Idiots Assemble stands up to this brazenly, defiant and disruptive. It’s not only entertaining but essential in this political climate.
Written by: Matt Forde, Al Murray and Dean Foley
Directed by: Sean Foley
Sound design by: Richard Brooker
Video Design by: Nina Dunn for Pixel Lux
Choreography by: Lizzi Gee
Music direction and composition by: Alexander S. Bermange
Costume design by: Lotte Collett
Produced by: Richard Allen-Turner and Jon Thoday for Avalon