Tories are beyond satire... but I still gave it a go | Joe Venable on writing a Rishi Sunak musical in the space of just a month

Tories are beyond satire... but I still gave it a go

Joe Venable on writing a Rishi Sunak musical in the space of just a month

Is there any point to this? I asked myself that a lot, when I set out to write a satirical musical about Rishi Sunak’s election campaign. Of course, it’s a question you can apply to all sorts of daily tasks. The bed will become unmade again. Your fingernails will grow back. The politicians, though initially driven to tearful remorse at your scintillating comedy songs, will ultimately return to their corruption and mendacity. Life is one long shout into the void.

I’d been mulling an election musical for a few months with my friend Rob Gathercole; we had an idea we might write it over the summer before an October election. Of course, that plan was exploded when Sunak gave his unexpectedly moist speech outside Number 10 on May 22. We figured it would probably be too much work to make a show happen in six weeks. But then, what’s theatre for if it’s not snappy, relevant, up-to-the-minute? When we got a slice of luck - the Waterloo East Theatre was free on election week - we decided to go all-in.

Initially, our fear was that the campaign might be too staid and uneventful - particularly when the first TV debate produced nothing of interest. But I can only assume Rishi Sunak got word of our project and decided to help out. Never in our wildest dreams could we have foreseen the ‘going without Sky TV as a child’ screamer, the D-Day gaffe and the founding of a Tory gambling cartel - all in one month. Even manna from heaven was not this abundant.

There is peril in great riches though: there are times when it seems the politicians are writing the jokes for you, which has happened a lot in the last 14 years. 

The phrase ‘beyond satire’ has become overused; we are now beyond ‘beyond satire’, in a surrealist post-hell of melting-brain absurdism. The writer’s job becomes near-impossible: between Boris Johnson’s pratfall from grace and Liz Truss’s self-pantsing budget, you do wonder if the government has deliberately embraced slapstick to leave the satirists off-balance. It’s hard to draw a caricature of a guy in a clown nose.

The other problem is the status of those in power. Satirists usually hope to be punching up, but so bad is Rishi’s predicament, mocking him feels like punching, at best, sideways – despite the fact I work in a bar, don’t own a house, and recently injured my tongue with a big sneeze. Is there a danger the audience starts feeling sorry for Rishi? Might I get milkshaked?

And of course, that also re-opens the question of what is the point: if the public already knows the Conservatives are awful, what are we achieving through an hour of song? To this end, we’ve generously reserved a quota of mockery for non-Conservatives - Keir Starmer, Nigel Farage and Ed Davey all get stage-time - but it’s boys against men in terms of actual achievement in evil. It feels like mocking Fourth Orc when Lord Sauron is right there.

On the whole, I think my best hope is that our show might be a sort of monument - a lest-we-forget EdStone tallying up the depth and breadth of Tory incompetence and depravity in these 14 long years. Like a war memorial, we will point to it and say ‘Never again’ - that the time for trans-baiting, immigrant-hating, compassion-free politics is over. Perhaps a touring production can be scheduled for 2029.

Failing that, we can always fall back on art for art’s sake: if it produces laughter, or small moments of beauty, we can at least say we’ve achieved something, though it may not change the world. 

As I always tell the cast, if just one person leaves with a smile on their face, then it’s all been worth it, as long as that person is a high-profile reviewer with a knack for producing memorable pull quotes.

 At any rate, this Conservative era seems to increase the need for a bit of musical escapism, and we’re happy to provide it. You’d rather be singing into the void than shouting into it. 

• Rishi Sunak’s Doing A Musical! runs at the Waterloo East Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm. Tickets are available here

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Published: 29 Jun 2024

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