Rishi Sunak's Doing A Musical! | Review of a hastily-written topical satire
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Rishi Sunak's Doing A Musical!

Review of a hastily-written topical satire

There’s a giddy end-of-term feeling to Rishi Sunak's Doing A Musical!, a spirited farewell-and-good-riddance to the Tories, hastily written after the Prime Minister’s inexplicable decision to stand in a Downing Street downpour in May and call an unwinnable early election.

The premise is that in a last-ditch attempt to close Labour’s insurmountable poll lead, Sunak turns to faithful Conservative backer Andrew Lloyd Webber to write him a blockbuster musical for the London Palladium, literally singing his praises.

Well, The Sound Of Sunak instead ends up in the 100-seat Waterloo East Theatre and penned by Rob Gathercole and Joe Venable. Yes, the real creators of this musical did write themselves into the action, and with Gathercole playing himself, too. They are initially reluctant to get involved with the Sunak project but ultimately justify it by arguing: ‘It’s not propaganda if the songs are catchy.’ 

Well, they are that, with the PM singing witty couplets like ‘I’ve combusted / like Liz Truss did’ and Keir Starmer offering a more qualified version of D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better.

Given this jaunty piece will be out of date by Friday, topically is everything, and the lively script is rich with gags ripped from the headlines, including Ed Davey’s bonkers electioneering, Starmer’s tired reminders of his dad’s job and Sunak’s protestations that he was so poor growing up that he had go without Sky TV. 

It’s not super-sophisticated but it is great fun, with such references eliciting the laughs of derision they deserve in real life, amplified by the knockabout pantomime vibe of this playful endeavour. The cast of four are spirited, with Kuran Dhand pulling off the impossible of being an almost likeable Sunak, full-throated in musical numbers and adding flourishes of physical comedy to what’s on the page. This must be the only time the Prime Minister can ever hope to get a rousing cheer from leftie theatre types.

Meanwhile, musical stand-up Katie Pritchard does a solid impression of Starmer’s flattened nasal vowels as she engagingly bumbles about, as well-meaning but hapless as the Labour leader. ‘Naughty’ Nigel Farage is let off relatively lightly, memorably parodied by Gathercole as a Magic Mike-style stripping hunk rather than a dangerous demagogue, while the versatile Celeste Collier becomes the likes of Angela Rayner and Liz Truss, who will never not be a punchline. Here the mayfly PM ponders her bad luck at how the economy collapsed – entirely by mysterious coincidence –  just after she announced her fiscal plans. What rotten luck…

Later in the show, Gathercole and Venable add an interesting extra meta dimension, pondering whether all this rough-and-tumble mockery is good for political discourse, discouraging the right sort of people from going into politics. But we move on quickly. This is no place for serious navel-gazing.

All is well until the last act, when Rishi Sunak's Doing A Musical! becomes a laboured, bizarre, AI spoof out of sync with the rest of the show and a slog to watch, Perhaps such a hubristic end, paying no heed to what the audience might want, is an appropriate commentary on the state of government in its final hour, but it’s a right mess.

But unlike the Tories, at least the run-up to that swangsong was a blast. Knowing the administration is all-but over, we can all laugh about it now...

• Rishi Sunak's Doing A Musical! is on at Waterloo East Theatre, London,  until Saturday.

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Review date: 3 Jul 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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