REVIEWS

David Laing, The List, 22 August 2007

This slick production provides plenty of laughs and generous helpings of satire as it chronicles the achievements of the Blair premiership. A well-voiced and good-looking cast accompany the plethora of lyrically and musically impressive songs, providing a comic, if secondhand, squint behind the doors of number ten, with the deteriorating, camp, Blair/Brown relationship a particular highlight. Occasionally puerile and a little lengthy but otherwise this is entertaining stuff from a highly talented company.

The Stage, 14 August 2007

What a shame that the cast of this wonderfully entertaining and skilfully written musical are having to cram together on a stage the size of a table top at the Gilded Balloon.

The talent of the writing, however, manages to shine through. And what an exciting talent it is. James Lark and Christopher Mundy have a real understanding of how to 'do' musical theatre. Their songs are well-constructed and thoughtful parodies of other writers - picked to fit the mood of the moment or the character singing.

Thus the opening song, sung by Britain's pre-Blair, rag-clad suffering masses has shades of Les Miserables. "Oh! What a Lovely War Against Terrorism" speaks for itself, and there are shades of Noel Coward and Jonathan Larson to name two others.

Blair - a sleazy performance from Nathan Kiley - and Brown - a great impersonation and surprisingly sensitive performance from writer Lark - are an unrequited couple joined by an ideology. As Blair becomes tainted by power and influenced by others such as Alistair Campbell and George W Bush, so Brown becomes a heartbroken idealist still clinging onto the dreams they once shared together.

Tony Blair - The Musical needs to be seen by someone who can offer advice, guidance and cash in order to develop it into something bigger. The seeds are here for a much bigger production - here is talent to be nurtured.

Three Weeks, 14 August 2007

Ah Tony. Tony, Tony, Tony. Bet you never thought you'd end up the subject of a musical. Granted, it's a satire in musical form, but ex-Prime Ministers who alienated thousands by pursuing an unpopular war can't be choosers. But at least it's satire done well. Slick, funny and clever, this high quality entertainment features a set-dance led by George Bush, much mockery of Clare Short's fashion tastes, and the most hilarious portrayal of David Blunkett this side of Westminster. At the heart of the drama is a tragic love that just wasn't meant to be. Where did it all go wrong for Tony and Gordon? Watch the story unfold beneath Alastair Campbell's eagle eyes. Just don't mention the Millennium Dome.

The Mail on Sunday, 12 August 2007

Lead Nathan Kiley flashes his grinning Blair rictus brightly while a smitten Gordon Brown is dumped and Tony The Phoney turns on the smarm to lead his nation into Oh! What a Lovely War Against Terrorism. Musically sophisticated and zestily performed, Tony Blair - the Musical packs a good deal more oomph than the Brown Bounce.

ScotsGay, 12 August 2007

We experience a Peter Snow that was perfect at election time, Tony Blair doing a "Not a day for Soundbites" song featuring soundbite after soundbite. The rhyming of education, education, education with mutual masturbation is one I will remember for a long time. We are lead into early legacies of this government, such as the Millennium Dome. We experience a manic John Prescott and female ministers who are clearly there because of their genitalia not their intellect or ability. Blunkett comes alive in a scene that is very simple, yet utterly ridiculing (I'll say no more).

Writer James Lark and director Delyth Jones have developed a show anyone could be proud of; watch out Max Stafford-Clark and Alaistair Beaton you have competition.

David Torrance, Edinburgh Evening News, 9 August 2007

James Lark's sophisticated harmonies and jaunty chorus numbers (although reliant on pre-recorded music) are lively and entertaining, while Nathan Kiley is engaging as the ever-grinning Prime Minister. Lark also doubles up as the brooding chancellor Gordon Brown, whose romantic feelings towards the PM are hinted at to amusing effect. A whining Clare Short and sinister David Blunkett provide comic relief, the latter aided by a glove puppet as his guide dog.

Johann Hari, The Independent, 9 August 2007

The endless Prime Ministerial speeches about The Legacy that filled the spring didn't include Blair's contribution to musical theatre, but it turns out the PM who dreamed of being a rock star has bequeathed two song-and-dance singalongs to this year's Fringe. At the Gilded Balloon, his story - in Tony Blair - The Musical - opens with a dark-robed, hungry peasant's chorus, lamenting the long winter of Tory rule. But then a red-tied Messiah emerges as the sun breaks over the Royal Festival Hall, and Blair's flattest clichés are leavened with music: "The art of politics is saying no not yes/ We have 14 days to save the NHS."

But this is, in fact, the Tony and Gordon story. Brown shambles on to the stage here as a chaotic, hyper-intellectual tramp, locked in a semi-gay sadomasochistic tango with Tony. His tie and his social skills askew, he gazes longingly at Blair's political skills and sings sweetly of their one-time partnership. But when Brown finally and bloodily dispatches Blair and takes centre-stage, Tony's corpse twitches back to life - and he is instantly reincarnated in a blue tie as David Cameron, to shunt Brown aside once again.

It's a neat conceit, but the news beyond the fringe - of Cameron's plummeting poll numbers, and Brown's bounce - shows the creators are too pessimistic. Yet there is real charm here. Sure, the music is too brooding and bleak for such a jaunty idea… But this is a surprisingly intelligent way to process the Blair Years.

The Scotsman, 8 August 2007

Io Theatre Company at Gilded Balloon have lovely touches, including digs at Claire Short's "Laura Ashley wardrobe", while Gordon and Tony's unrequited love affair plays out to the lyrics of: "I'll be Simon to your Garfunkel … Jason to your Kylie", complete with a Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire dance off. The Bush appearance does little to disappoint, played out in barn dance style. A suitably verbose Shakespearian ending rounds it off in gallus style.

Thomas Kerr, Skinny Fest, 8 August 2007

Joined by an ensemble of the great and the good of the New Labour aristocracy, Tony Blair - the Musical croons its way through 10 years of Blair's premiership, taking its farcical song titles straight from the man himself, including the glorious spin-mocking opening number, "Not a Day for Soundbites." From Gordon Brown's faintly homoerotic relationship with Blair to the oft-mentioned but never-seen Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair bowls along taking potshots left, right and centre. It even features, as any political comedy worth its salt should, a cameo from Peter Snow's election swingometer.

The show's jokes, however, remain strongest on the most predictable areas - Blunkett, Iraq and George Bush. Cracking blind jokes and suggesting Bush is a little bit of a cowboy isn't cutting edge satire, but it's hilariously funny nonetheless, and when set to the toe-tapping music of James Lark it makes for a highly entertaining journey through a period of British politics ripe for this sort of treatment.

Pete Shaw, Broadway Baby, 11 August 2007

Io Theatre's take on the Tony Blair years is a satirical view of his leadership, set to a bitingly funny score. Pretty much all the elements of his ten years in power are there, with only the notable absence of Cherie.

The first ten minutes or so is comic gold. Starting from 1997, the British people are depicted as Muscovite peasants follow 18 years of Tory corruption. We get an early feel for how clever the writing can be when Blair launches into a song with the lyric "today is not a day for soundbites, but I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders." The audience are floored and it's only just started.

Fringe Review, 7 August 2007

The opening number documenting the well cast, and ever-so-supercilious, Tony's rise to power was hilarious especially in its depiction of the British public pre-New Labour as refugees in rags. At the centre of the show was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's evolving relationship characterised at first by romantic duets then later by bitter tirades and in these moments the writing was witty and incisive.

Mark Monahan, The Daily Telegraph, 6 August 2007

"It runs the melodic gamut from near-Weillian severity to knowingly schmaltzy balladry, and is packed with rich, tight harmonies."

Fridaycities London, July 30th 2007

Last year James Lark wrote and starred in a musical comedy called The Rise and Fall of Deon Vonniget. It previewed in London, then spent a couple of weeks in Edinburgh, garnering small audiences and moderately enthusiastic, sympathetic reviews. It was a diverting evening's theatre for sure, but on the whole - featuring as it did a song about cheese and a hopefully deliberately appalling impression of Terry Wogan - it was just a little too silly and slight. It was clear that Lark had talent, but he badly needed the right story through which to channel it.

This year he plumped for a story that had already been written; it just needed some ruthless editing and a damn good sexing up. This Lark provided, courtesy of a decent rash of belly-laughs and some stonking great tunes. The resulting show, Tony Blair - The Musical, is a revelation.

Ostensibly focusing on the relationship between Blair and Gordon Brown, but really using that as an excuse to rehash the highs and lows of the Blair administration, Lark's musical tribute to the ex-Prime Minister is very funny. Furthermore, thanks to exemplary performances all round, the songs - every now and then - make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. And we're speaking as people who, on the whole, have little but the most profound disdain for musical theatre. Highlights of the show include a line-dancing George Bush with a filthy mouth, Alistair Campbell as a Wizard of Oz Big Brother hybrid, and a highly plausible take on the conversation after Prescott walloped that guy with the egg. Best of all however, is the portrayal of David Blunkett - crossing him with Bob Carolgees may have been born out of necessity, but it proved an absolute masterstroke.

It's a shame however that there wasn't more of Blunkett. It would have been nice to see his fall from grace - the adulterous fall from grace, we mean. But of course fitting ten years into just ninety minutes means that sacrifices have to be made. And on the whole, we think Lark made the right ones.

All of the cast excelled but a special mention must go to Nathan Kiley for his subtle and highly effective turn as Tony.

As you may know, there is another musical about Tony Blair currently warming up for Edinburgh further up the country. This one, entitled Tony! The Blair Musical, we haven't seen, but if it's going to give Lark's Blair a run for its money, it had better be damn good. In the meantime, Lark will carry on fine-tuning his Blair in time for the festival, where we predict it will do very, very well. In fact, if this play isn't on the West End this time next year, we'll eat our special theatre hat.