Pleasance at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre
When I was researching this musical before seeing it, I came across a tweet that made me laugh. Someone had asked for ‘no spoilers’ for the show, with another replying, ‘no spoilers for 1997-2007?’ But perhaps the original poster had a point? I wasn’t born when Tony Blair became Labour’s Prime Minister, and was eight when he stepped down. I wasn’t aware of the Good Friday agreement, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. I have, of course, subsequently learnt of these events, but because I didn’t live through them, maybe that’s why I struggled to “get” TONY!
The show starts with a loud bang and Blair is on his deathbed. The company dive into a number introducing him, where they sing ‘Toooooooooooony’ repeatedly like a haunting ghost. There are characters that I’m familiar with; Gordon Brown (Phil Sealey) and Princess Diana (Emma Jay Thomas), but some that I’m not, Peter Mandelson (Howard Samuels) and John Prescott (Rosie Strobel).
There are other catchy songs, such as one about New Labour and macroeconomics. The finale song, The Whole World Is Run by Arseholes, is brilliant and very funny. Yet, the sound quality in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre was poor, so at times it was hard to make out the lyrics.
Jack Whittle is superb as Tony Blair, with his toothy grin and his accurate impression of Blair’s enthusiastic mannerisms. A comical highlight is when he spells ‘bullocks’ when discussing the Iraq Dossier. Other characters are caricatures of their intended identities. Gordon Brown inhaling deeply every two words and then turning into the Incredible Hulk when angry was excessive.
Big letters that spell TONY are positioned behind the band on the stage. At various points in the show, they flash up in neon red, like a diner sign you would see in Las Vegas. There is a door on wheels which represents Number 10 and this is cleverly used throughout, with various characters, like Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, popping through.
There is a lack of a clear plot, but this may be because the company are putting on an abridged version for the Fringe and have significantly reduced the running time. At times, TONY! is very entertaining, but to truly enjoy it and get the inside jokes, you need to know the context.
Book by: Harry Hill
Music & Lyrics by: Steve Brown
Directed by: Peter Rowe
Set and costume design by: Libby Watson
Produced by: Nicholson Green Productions
TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] plays at Pleasance at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre until 27 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.