‘It’s just like a West End musical but funnier and also doesn’t have Michael Ball in it.’ – Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image the Musical, Phoenix Theatre, London. 08.08.23

The title of this post, taken from the musical’s website, summarises this one pretty aptly. Need I say more?

I wasn’t alive when Spitting Image first aired on TV in the 80s, but I dimly recall my parents laughing hysterically whilst watching it when I was young. The epitome of political satire, its revival seems to have arrived at just the right time, given the current state of things.

The great thing about it is you don’t really need to know anything much about Spitting Image, really you only need to have watched the news and have a vague awareness of current affairs. People from my parent’s generation will view it with fond nostalgia, but people my age and younger will appreciate it purely for what it is; a mockery of public figures they either know and love, or more likely know and hate.

I knew I wanted to see it. And the storyline as set out on the website had me intrigued:

See Tom Cruise as you’ve never seen him before as he’s tasked by His Majesty The King to create the U.K.’s very own “Magnificent Seven” of celebrity misfits to save the nation from a cabal of dark forces seeking to destroy it – that’s all the usual suspects. And James Corden…

There’s dancing. There’s absolutely no respect paid to anyone… It’s just like a West End musical but funnier and also doesn’t have Michael Ball in it.

I can only describe it as two hours of utter hilarity and chaos. We start with a warning – if you’re easily offended this isn’t the place of you, and they don’t care if you can complain because they’ve already had your money. You can’t fault their honesty at least.

Ian McKellan is our puppet narrator, although with Harry and Meghan sitting in a box to the side, ready to plug his book Spare at an opportunity. A very, very tiny Tom Cruise puppet gathers a band of heroes to repair the fabric of society in time for King Charles’ coronation.

The warning is merited – this show is not for the faint-hearted. Paddington Bear’s secret ingredient in his marmalade sandwiches is cocaine, Putin treats the audience to a musical number which ends with him in sparkly underwear, and a troupe of dancing penises are used to illustrate what male politicians think with.

But it is laugh-out-loud funny all the way through, thanks to writers Al Murray, Matt Forde and Sean Foley. It is also impressively ‘current’, touching on some of the key issues, both political and celebrity, that we are forced to witness on a daily basis.

There is an extensive cast of voice over artists and puppeteers that are needed to make this musical possible, far too many to name here and it’s impossible to single anyone out by name. There were some terrific impersonations, Prince Harry and Donald Trump were particularly good.

The puppets are a work of art. If you think Boris Johnson’s hair is bad in real life, wait until you see the floppy monstrosity they’ve put on his puppet. Similar care and attention to detail has gone into the sets, as the characters move effortlessly from Buckingham Palace to a Ukrainian war zone, to the Britain’s Got Talent studio. There’s an Air Rwanda flight in there somewhere too. (Oh yes, it went there).

Some imaginative musical numbers top this chaotic spectacular off. We Will Rule You, Putin on the Blitz and a derogatory hype song from Stormzy to Tom Cruises – which manages to call him little man about a hundred times – are just some of the treats in store for you if you choose to see this one.

If you’re looking for an evening of laughs, about (when you think about it) some distinctly unfunny topics, this is the musical for you! Really it is worth going just to see the puppets on stage, but the talented writers and performers make it a truly enjoyable experience, though definitely not one to take the kids to.

Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image the Musical is doing a limited run at the Phoenix Theatre in London. There are only 10 days left to see it as it ends on Saturday 26 August, so get your tickets from the website now. A warning of my own, the tickets are not cheap!

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