This is one of the most brave and brilliant premieres I’ve seen at Theatre Clwyd in decades. It’s a very clever conceit. It’s an immaculately slick production (5 weeks in rehearsal) in which words and music merge masterfully. The ensemble acting is simply superb; powerfully portraying some hideous attitudes. But, like it’s subject matter, it can be tedious at times and I suspect it is destined to drive a wedge through public opinion … rather more vehemently than a jar of marmite. Which may be precisely what its creators intend.
It is also ahead of its time … by several weeks.
The lyrics and dialogue are drawn from the text, twitter and news feeds of an evening in June 2018 in which two horrendous events occur. 12 migrant fruit pickers are killed in a caravan fire in Kent…and the provocative right-wing columnist Katie Hopkins is gunned down at the British Media and Entertainment Awards in Mayfair. Now, which of these two news stories should take priority?
Hospkins’ followers go bananas about her murder. She was the woman who said the unsayable; who voiced what they were all thinking. There’s a candle-lit vigil in Trafalgar Square and a ‘Je Suis Katie’ campaign. In comparison, the dozen farm worker deaths slide off the agenda, and a bright young trainee solicitor who champions their cause loses her job
This is a biting musical about a sick, heartless society; the one we are descending into with barely a whimper. The cast are welded to their illuminated smart phones. The dialogue is short, sharp and fractured … just like the worst kind of social media.
In the first half, the chatter is so snatched and snappy, the pace is jitteringly fast. But then a song comes along and the choruses crunch the show down through the gears. Though the singing emoogies are a hoot.
The synthesized computer music is fittingly un-endearing and largely unemotional – often imitating the sort of stuff that tickertapes away under the news headlines. And like the rolling news it satirises, the lyrics of the songs are mindlessly repetitive and clichéd. They are also pretty nasty…like a human version of ‘Avenue Q’.
The writers revive ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’ from the demise of another famous right-winger; but add new songs such as the anthemic ‘I Want To Live in Katie’s Britain’ (with as few other races as possible, please). And when a potential killer is arrested, the black community nervously croon ‘Let It Be Someone White’. It’s very funny, but so borderline you are reluctant to laugh.
The show strengthens in the second half into longer, deeper and highly memorable scenes which throw in our faces the prejudice and hypocrisy we’re lamely becoming immune to. Two studio scenes in particular were disturbingly riveting for someone like me who’s spent 40 years in radio. One was a late-night zoo-show where three cheap and nasty ratings-driven broadcasters gang up on a considered Guardian columnist with a serious point to make. And in a live interview Jeremy Paxman would have been proud of, a ‘Right to Hate’ campaigner is mercilessly dismantled by her own leaked e-mails. Whilst on a tube train, the drunken, acerbic advances of a white male on a head-scarfed young Asian woman are so realistically enacted, I felt guilty that I didn’t intervene.
Writer Chris Bush has pulled together a broad sweep of our ills (some obvious, some less so) and when a possible remedy is raised, she authentically drowns it out with yet more distracting internet tittle tattle. (Forget that inspiring speech, have you seen the latest celebrity gossip). It’s a wonderfully observed indictment. The frustration is that whilst it’s a vividly worrying portrait of our decline (the presentation of which is important enough) it denies any real sense of hope. Theatre without hope tends to lack audience satisfaction.
As for Katie Hopkins? I don’t agree with her. Millions do. If she were to see the show, she might get a taste of her own medicine. The sad irony is that just by staging it – and me reviewing it – she benefits from the oxygen of even more publicity.
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