Review: Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera], Park Theatre ★★☆☆☆

by Chris Dobson

Much of Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera takes place over twenty years ago, but the humour of the show is akin to an eight-year-old’s, with slapstick comedy and funny sound effects galore. This is unsurprising, given that it was written by Harry Hill, with his long-term collaborator Steve Brown providing the lyrics. Director Peter Rowe has the difficult job of combining harrowing subject matter – wars, 9/11, death – with the tone of Harry Hill’s TV Burp.

Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] at Park Theatre. Photo: Mark Douet

A cast of ten do their best to energetically breathe life into the material, but the songs simply aren’t good enough to justify the existence of this surreal musical, which strives to be satirical but achieves only cringe. Despite the title of the play – which is reinforced through giant letters above the stage spelling out ‘TONY!’ – Tony Blair himself (played by a Mike Myers-esque Charlie Baker) is actually the least interesting character in the show. Indeed, it is telling that the only good song is performed by Martin Johnston, who plays (among several other roles) Neil Kinnock.

Howard Samuels is also a delight as Peter Mandelson, but the presentation of the future Labour peer as a Machiavellian genius turns poor old Tony into little more than a puppet. The eponymous hero (or anti-hero, depending on your perspective) of this rock opera lacks any agency, cheerily letting himself be influenced by figures such as Mandelson, George W. Bush and, most bizarrely of all, Princess Diana (Madison Swan).

Charlie Baker. Photo: Mark Douet

Rosie Strobel is an amusingly boisterous John Prescott, but the show struggles to keep up with the vast time frame covered, ranging from Tony Blair’s birth to his final hour. That’s not a spoiler, by the way: The show opens with Blair apparently on his deathbed, confessing his sins to a Catholic priest. One gets the impression that the creators of Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera came up with the idea for the show, thought it was great, but then struggled to stretch the subject matter into a full-length musical. The result is a show that feels tonally jarring, with crass jokes and boring costumes; almost all of the characters just wear identical suits with red ties, making them occasionally hard to tell apart.

Only at the very end does the show start to achieve some sort of cohesion, as it ties Tony Blair’s premiership to today, comparing him to other ‘arsehole’ leaders around the world. At least the musical is self-aware about its flaws, with characters often critically breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. Overall, by attempting to mix the style of The Book of Mormon with the content of Spitting Image, this rock opera feels like an experiment gone wrong.

Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera is at the Park Theatre until 9 July

Chris Dobson is a freelance journalist from the North of England. He now lives in North London and is passionate about theatre, film and literature.


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