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TONY! the Rock Opera | The Lowry, Salford

Tony Blair and Rock Opera. Two things you wouldn’t assume would work together but that is in fact the premise of Harry Hill and Steven Brown’s musical. After previously selling out London’s Park Theatre, TONY! is currently embarking on a national UK tour.

Telling the true story of the life of ex-UK Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, the musical takes us through the rise and demise of one of politics most famous faces. The show morbidly opens with Blair on his death bed as we are forewarned about his impending demise. The tone of the show is set immediately and the audience are aware that this is anything but morbid as the laughs come thick and fast. The show covers Blair’s upbringing, to him vacating office including meeting a few famous faces on the way in hilarious fashion. TONY! may sound like a politically charged heavy show but it is the contrary.

Act one is a whirlwind whistle stop tour of Tony’s conceivably privileged childhood and teenage years to his prominence within the ‘New’ Labour Party. Musical highlights included ‘She’s A Lady/He’s My Baby’ a tango-esque dance where Tony meets future wife Cherie and the arrival of The People’s Princess Lady Di in ‘The Princess and the Pop Prime Minister.’ Both songs are catchy and fun, even if contrasted in style.

Act two portrays the demise of Tony and whilst the tone is still slapstick with laugh out loud moments, there are more thought provoking messages. Throughout the musical, serious messages are portrayed, however in a lighthearted way. Perhaps the most striking moment of the piece is George W Bush’s solo number ‘Bombs Away.’ This is later reprised by Tony as his iconic trademark smile faded to the sounds of bombs dropping around him, reminding us all of the devastation he and his party caused entering into four wars. At times the piece feels confusing, as if laughing at the horror of war is trivial and acceptable.

If you were unaware that comedian and entertainer Harry Hill had any involvement in the piece prior to watching, within the first scene or two it is abundantly clear. The writing of the piece is clever and fast paced throughout with Hill’s distinct touch. In what would have been an easily written narrative of the negative acts Blair had upon us all, it is commended that all of Blair’s life is told. These include positive political actions such as The Human Rights Act and legalising civil partnerships. Hill describes lyricist Steven Brown as ‘the best kept secret in showbiz’ and he just might be right. Their collaborative partnership works well and complement each other perfectly.

Jack Whittle leads the parody of Tony Blair. From the iconic birthing on stage, Whittle has the audience in laughter at the first sight on stage. Whittle demonstrates a great character arc as the piece progresses from questioning his own abilities to confidently leading the party into the general election. He had the voice and nuances of Tony perfectly, smiling through adversity. As much as Whittle shines in the title role, the ensemble equally deserves their plaudits. From playing well known political figures such as John Prescott and Gordon Brown, to doubling up as Saddam Hussain and Osama Bin Laden, the cast work vigorously to bring each and every character to life. Howard Samuel’s portrayal of Peter Mandelson was a stand out as he perfects the tone for the show and repeatedly breaks the fourth wall with clever, camp one liners. Interestingly it was lovely to see the three piece band on stage, smiling throughout and throughly enjoying the show.

Playing at the The Quay’s Theatre at The Lowry, Salford at the time of the Conservative Party conference also held in Manchester, the irony was not lost on anyone. This theatre was the perfect setting for this musical. The smaller theatre of the two made set design by Libby Watson makes the stage seem vast and large encompassing minimal set pieces that progress the story. Lighting design by Mark Dymock ensured that each scene was visually different and striking.

The show does lean into an older demographic who are more socially aware of particular moments in history or political figures associated with this story. Due to the fast and impactful nature of the show there was little room for character exploration, audiences were just expected to know each and every character although introduced on stage. This musical is not for the easily offended but does offer something for everyone. This piece is something you truly have to see as words do not do it justice on how bonkers this really is. The music isn’t necessarily ‘rock’ but will appeal to many musical theatre and pop music fans.

The Tony Blair Rock Opera takes a playful and entertaining look back on the life of one of the most influential Prime Ministers in history. Whilst the piece is comical and humorous, at times it’s peculiar and absurd. TONY! the Musical plays at the Lowry theatre until Saturday 7th October. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Mark Senior


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