Follow My Leader
Topical satire at its best can be utterly delicious. In Feelgood, the razor-sharp dissection of the New Labour spin machine, Alistair Beaton scored an unequivocal triumph and so expectations have naturally been high for its musical successor Follow My Leader which takes a scathing side-swipe at the Iraq War and the pivotal relationship between Blair and Bush that triggered the whole messy affair.
Conceived more as a caustic revue than a play, it's certainly witty and wryly thought-provoking, its subject-matter often so black it perches dangerously close to the precipice of humour. In a series of uneven sketches that trace the trajectory of the war from first tentative idea to full-blown marathon, the talented nine-strong cast play a vast variety of roles, from a heavenly chorus with Tony Blair on electric guitar to various lackeys and advisors surrounding Blair and his putative ally George Bush. Philip Witcomb's appropriately gaudy set blends the British flag with the stars and stripes, the figurehead of Jesus satirising the way Christianity has been invoked within the war on terror.
At the heart of the show is the presentation of Tony Blair driven by the conviction of his god-given duty to liberate Iraq, a belief comically represented by the express visit God makes to the PM, assuring him of his personal sanction. Jason Durr is a brilliant Blair, capturing not just the familiar gestures but the whole range of Blairisms, both physical and verbal to create a wildly entertaining, uncannily accurate portrayal of a complicated man engaged in a difficult alliance. Whenever Durr's on stage the comic temperature rises a notch and whether he's wearily hectoring the audience on a lack of appreciation or trying to maintain damage limitation, his performance provides the evening's chief delight.
He's supported by a talented cast, well directed by Mark Clements whose effervescence provides much humour, not least the sight of Sevan Stephan's Clare Short dancing an ungainly tango! Giles New is particularly effective as a smart junior trying to pacify the gung-ho inclinations of a militant (and deeply dim) senior official and Peter Polycarpou is excellent as ever though the script for the 'Comical Ali' segment overruns to the point of tedium.
It's always great to see a writer tackling pertinent contemporary stuff in this fashion and though this isn't in the same league as the more cohesive Feelgood, its blend of wit and irony is still highly palatable.