Thursday, 31 March 2016

Review: UKIP! The Musical, Waterloo East

"It's nothing to do with race
There's just no bloody space
The NHS is knackered and 
The trains are a disgrace"

After a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last summer, HellBent Theatre's political satire UKIP! The Musical has set up camp at the Waterloo East Theatre for a week of performances. With book, music and lyrics by Huddersfield writer Cath Day and directed by Jessica Williams, the show is almost as much a cabaret revue as an actual musical but even with a broad range of musical styles being covered in this suite of original songs, Day manages the not inconsiderable feat of formulating a number of incredibly catchy numbers.

The book traces the rise of Nigel Farage from a Tory Party member with a keen sense of betrayal at Maastricht to the champion of Britannia herself at the helm of his own party, and then pushes further into a (thankfully) imagined parallel future as he's ultimately forced to reap what he's sown. The tone is always bitingly light though - his main advisors are the Ghost of Britain Past and the Britain Quite Recent (Churchill and Thatcher) and the Machiavellian figure of Godfrey Bloom, he of Bongo Bongo Land infamy, a mis-step vividly reconceptualised here with tongue firmly in cheek.

Amusing as it is - and I laughed a lot - UKIP! The Musical works well because it isn't just a series of featherlight jabs at easy targets. Bloom's transformation of Farage into the pint-swilling, fag-smoking covert-coat-wearing "ordinary man" is a masterclass in voter-friendly misdirection away from his former career as a stockbroker. Equally, a song that gives voice to the frustrations of those susceptible to UKIP's message has a strange currency for not being a million miles away from the truth about why they're so disaffected.

Williams maintains the balance well though, a couple of slightly dodgy points notwithstanding (comedy rape sits weirdly for me I'm afraid), with victims from across the political spectrum being viciously skewered. David Cameron and Boris Johnson are brilliantly essayed by two of the female company members, Joe Bence's hapless Clegg is hilarious as is James Douglas Brennan's Bloom and Jarrard Richards' Nigel Farage nails all the karmic humour of a man increasingly out of his depth.

A few months is a lifetime in the swift-moving world of politics though and it's hard not to feel that the material is thus a little dated. Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are yesterday's men, even Farage himself and UKIP at large feel like a (hopefully) spent force and with the news cycle so dominated by Corbyn and now the ridiculousness of Brexit, real life has moved on. But as an encapsulation of a deeply odd, and challenging, moment in British politics, UKIP! The Musical is right on the money - pounds sterling of course, none of that Euro rubbish.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd April

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