Dancing penises, nipples that talk, Nigel Garage’s balls – these aren’t things typically seen on a West End stage – but Spitting Image The Musical has arrived!

Credit: Mark Senior

Spitting Image is a satirical TV puppet show first broadcast in 1984; by design, the series aims to make fun of celebrities and famous figures. No sides of society or politics are safe – everyone is mocked here. Before the show begins, a trigger warning is issued urging those that are easily offended to leave now, and they state the comedy within the show is ‘unwise but not illegal’.

Matt Forde, Al Murray, and Sean Foley’s script focuses on a gang of celebrities led by Tom Cruise who must save Britain. The show is narrated by Ian McKellen – I have no idea why he’s the chosen one, but there we are. The plot is paper-thin throughout and has the overall feel of separate comedy sketches strung together with the faintest of plots to combine them. 

The staging consists of a large screen at the back of the stage, upon which video designs by Nina Dunn are projected. These correspond well to what is unfolding on stage throughout. Some of the set pieces have a slight two-dimensional look to them, slightly cheapening the overall visual. But the set is not what we’re here to see – it’s the puppets!

The puppeteers perform skillfully: their legs are the legs of the puppets, and both the puppet and their bottom halves always match. From the side, the puppets are floating torsos, but from the front, they are seamless. They move with the fluidity of humans, embodying the character they play throughout and truly bringing these figures to life. Scott Brooker’s puppets based on the caricatures of Roger Law are instantly recognisable.

Credit: Mark Senior

The music composed by Alexander S. Bermange is devised and performed well, but I feel it has been incorporated so the show may appeal to a wider group of theatregoers – there is no need for it here. The music doesn’t progress the plot and is made up of parodies of famous songs which feel repetitive. (Do three Queen songs need to be incorporated?) The Stormzy number is a highlight, and the choreography by Lizzi Gee is particularly tight here, but most of the puns and wordplays on lyrics are predictable.

For the most part, the writing contains obvious jokes, which also feel much tamer compared to the TV show. The royal family, in particular, seems to emerge relatively unscathed. There are some rather lazy lines which use swear words to shock instead of providing a punchline. Some slurs are also used on a couple of occasions, once in a discussion between RuPaul and Tyson Fury about their identities and sexuality, which seems completely unnecessary. There’s a musical number with Putin performing against a backdrop of the current war in Ukraine, which is completely tone-deaf, and I’m sure there is a multitude of other wittier, funnier ways one could mock Putin. At times it feels like the creators are purposefully trying to be controversial rather than focusing on creating great satire or comedy.

Some sketches feel completely random. Adele comes on for two seconds to talk about a trifle. Does Carrie Johnson speak in Hamilton lyrics? There’s some sexism scattered throughout – although Carrie Johnson does get a number with dancing penises to talk about how all men are dicks. As someone with quite a dark sense of humour, I feel a lot of the jokes are safe and unsurprising. The show is at its best when it pokes fun at our government – the Suella Braverman Exorcist bit worked favourably (at least until they had her masturbate). Again, although the show poked at the royal family, it never dared to go too far with this. For the most part, the jokes evoked giggles rather than hysterics.

Credit: Mark Senior

The voices of these famous faces are pre-recorded by a host of famous comedians. Some voices are better than others: Ian McKellen, for instance, sounds like David Attenborough at times. I feel the show could be improved by having these voices live to allow some improv and update the script to fit current events which occur. And, of course, hearing the comedian attempt to make each other laugh may heighten the comedic effects of the script. However, with such a band of talent, it would probably be difficult to have them all there onstage each night and possibly perform as multiple people at once. 

Apart from the Putin number and a few slurs, this show is not as offensive as it promises to be. Although the puppetry is masterful, and fans of the TV show will probably enjoy seeing it come to life, Spitting Image isn’t the great satire it promises to be. Alas, it’s more amusing than side-splittingly funny.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image The Musical is on until the 26th of August – tickets and info here!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

2 Star Review 3 Star Review 4 Star Review 5 Star Review 2022 2023 Adaptation Almeida Cabaret Camden Fringe Cast Announcement Christmas Comedy Dance Drag Edinburgh Fringe Edinburgh Fringe Interviews Fringe Immersive Interviews Jukebox Musical LGBTQIA+ Lyric Hammersmith Manchester Musical New Musical News New Wimbledon Theatre North West Off West End Park Theatre Play Review Revival Richmond Theatre Round Up Royal Court Theatre Shakespeare Show Announcement Show Recommendations Soho Theatre Southwark Playhouse Touring Production VAULT Festival West End

    The infamous Sh!t Faced Showtime are back in London with a festive edition, they have taken Dickens’ classic and put a drunken spin on it. The formula is the same as other iterations of the Shi!t Faced shows, one member of the cast has been boozing, and this time it is John Milton who plays Scrooge. Before the show, half a bottle of Jim Beam, some wine, and beer have been consumed in the previous 4 hours. The rest of the cast, try to keep the show on track, also aided by James Murfitt as the compere, Charles Dickens. The … More A PISSEDMAS CAROL – REVIEW – LEICESTER SQUARE
    Spine-tingling yet heart-warming, Mark Gatiss’s retelling of A Christmas Carol truly encapsulates the haunting atmosphere of a Victorian ghost story, balanced out with enough humour so as to capture the festive season. Led by Keith Allen as Scrooge, with Peter Forbes as Marley, this show is perfect for Christmas viewing. The set design by Paul Wills is instantly captivating, containing stacks of metal cabinets towering over the theatre, moveable by the cast to allow space for other central props like doors, beds and tables. In addition to this, the puppetry design by Matthew Forbes is incredibly clever, adding creepy elements to the show such … More A CHRISTMAS CAROL – REVIEW – ALEXANDRA PALACE
    The title of this winner of Theatre 503’s 2023 International Playwriting Award by Roxy Cook may seem like the set-up to a joke, but the narrative that unspools is instead an affectionate, gently barbed and at base quite sobering portrait of three ordinary souls (and one restless feline) adrift in modern Moscow. There is much affable, satirical back-and-forth commentary on the accepted myths & stereotypes of the Russian spirit & soul. Beset by the indignities of age, opportunism, graft, fatigue, the characters orbit one another, doomed to play out their roles in an unjust, predatory and saturnine universe. The play opens … More A WOMAN WALKS INTO A BANK – REVIEW – THEATRE503
    Peter Pan Goes Wrong first premiered in London at the Pleasance Theatre in 2013, and earlier this year the show made its Broadway debut. Now the production is back in the West End for the Christmas season. Following on from The Play That Goes Wrong, in this production, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is staged by the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and goes awry, disastrously so. The meta-comedy is filled with slapstick comedy, sometimes the humour may be predictable and silly, but it’s universally funny throughout – there is something for everyone here, and the laughs come thick and fast … More PETER PAN GOES WRONG – REVIEW – LYRIC THEATRE
    Drawing heavily from the classic canon of the British supernatural, HighTide’s trio of contemporary Gothic narratives uses traditional storytelling formats to address contemporary themes. Directed by Elayce Ismail, reverent musical interludes accompany tales of apparitions and nighttime conjurings that speak of women from the East of England. Unfortunately, the effect is less chilling and more lightweight, with conventional structures, predictable plot twists and an over-reliance on external forces to drive narrative shoring up some of the less relatable aspects of the genre. Nicola Werenowska’s The Beach House, perhaps the cleanest of the three tales, tells of a mother and daughter’s … More GHOST STORIES BY CANDLELIGHT – REVIEW – SAM WANAMAKER PLAYHOUSE

Leave a Reply