Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is theatrical marmite – you’re either going to love it or hate it!

DISCLAIMER- Please note: Neither Tony Blair, the Tony Blair Institute nor any other person featured in this production have endorsed the production or its marketing materials and are in no way affiliated with Park Theatre.

Credit: Mark Douet

Tony! is written by comedian and TV legend Harry Hill, and his long-time collaborator Steve Brown. The current run of the show at Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, London marks the world premiere of the production.

The show begins with ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair on his death bed confessing his sins – thankfully he doesn’t confess ALL his sins, otherwise I think the show would need an incredibly lengthy run time. We then rewind to his birth and childhood, before seeing him arrive at Oxford University with his electric guitar. This transition from childhood to university happens incredibly rapidly. Tony is played by Charlie Baker, donning a wig of long brown locks and with guitar in hand he resembles Jack Black as Tenacious D.

This show is the epitome of Fringe Theatre. It’s unique, absurd and hilarious. It’s also incredibly British by doing what we Brits do best, taking the mick out of ourselves! However it does feel rather rough around the edges. It resembles something you would find in a pub theatre, at the Fringe or being workshopped, not housed within the larger of the two spaces in an Off West End theatre such as this one. Although I expect that this has something to do with Harry Hill’s name being attached.

This is not Hill’s first venture into the world of musical theatre. He also co-wrote (again with Brown) I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical, which premiered in 2014 at the London Palladium. The show closed after just 6 weeks due to a lack of ticket sales and had faced multiple issues throughout its short lived run.

Tony! is a political satire, and although it had the audience in stitches throughout – me included at times. Some jokes were in poor taste. The inclusion of cameos from the likes of Jimmy Saville and Gary Glitter for example felt unnecessary and tone deaf. Particularly as they simply walked on the stage and off again so they did not add anything to the production value.

Baker’s Blair smiles throughout the show, appearing gormless and seeming to just fall into his place at university and his subsequent place within politics, without really meaning to. In fact at the end of the show he announces he only went into politics to meet ‘Mick Jaggers’.

Credit: Mark Douet

Peter Mandelson is played by Howard Samuels and is the highlight of the cast. His breaking of the fourth wall throughout the show is hilarious and his comedic timing is exceptional.

The ensemble take on many roles within the show, sporting wigs and moustaches to differentiate between characters. There’s a brilliant moment within the show, where Samuels dons a wig and announces to the audience that he is ‘Dick Cheney now!’ A special mention to Madison Swan’s Princess Diana is also well deserved.

The original idea for this production was for it to be a jukebox musical, something I believe may have increased the show’s value as a musical production. As apart from the last song, I struggle to recall any of the other musical numbers within the show. Also, some of the lyrics were questionable – for example, dependy is rhymed with trendy…

Harry Hill’s comedy is evident throughout the production with the inclusion of slapstick, visual and rather silly humour.

To make a good musical the songs need to be catchy and memorable and the choreography needs to be of a good standard and fun for the audience to watch. Unfortunately in these categories, the production falls short.

The most annoying aspect is that Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] has the potential to be the best that fringe theatre has to offer. The subject matter is great and there’s much to explore here. But it falls short, and for that reason I’m unable to give the show more than a 3 star rating, and I’m being quite generous with that. The reason for my generosity is the potential I can see within the material and casting – it simply requires some fine-tuning.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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