Review: Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera]

Written by on July 11, 2023

Review: Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera]

11/07/2023 – Storyhouse Chester, by Jamie Griffiths

Upon reading that Harry Hill and Steve Brown have created a musical about the rise (and fall?) of New Labour’s brightest star,  I couldn’t have imagined what an intelligent, heartwarming and genuinely funny show awaited me.

The first half of this production is pure nostalgia, with great turns from all the cast, largely focusing on the Cool Britannia birth of New Labour and we are in excellent company, being taken through the story by Howard Samuel’s Peter Mandelson. This man is an absolute joy, connecting with the audience in a camp, warm way every time he takes to the stage, and I found myself looking forward to the appearances of this political puppetmaster.

I’m not sure he’d take this as a compliment but Jack Whittle was born to play Tony Blair, embodying him in the most extraordinary caricature for the entire production. Even when he’s simply an onlooker to another cast member’s showstopping number, he steals the show by never breaking character. This is Tony’s life story, and we’re getting it warts and all at a breathtaking pace, but woe betide anyone in the first few rows during Peter Mandelson’s carrot and stick lesson!

This is cast of stars, effortlessly embodying the personalities of political yesteryear in a fresh and funny way. Many of them need no introduction. Tori Burgess in particular deserves praise for her inspired portrayal of Cherie Blair. The chemistry between Cherie and Tony is clear for all to see. Her role as the scouse Lady Macbeth in the production is done extremely well, and her focus and delivery during some of the more energetic scenes is incredible.

The comedy is effortless, but as Cherie says “what could possibly go wrong?” – the answer is “everything”. By the second half  you find yourself questioning some of the darker moments of history that are being played for laughs. What was totally refreshing was that this is entirely intentional, and Harry addresses this in the show as we start to look at the world events post 9/11. These serious moments in the second half are a welcome gearchange.

Libby Watsons’s set is in many ways simplistic but incredibly effective with a number of smoke and light effects swiftly adding to the pace and drama. This is a production that’s found it’s groove, and is both effortless and energetic for the full two hours. It’s rare for a comedic production to sustain the laughs for the entire show but Tony! goes a long way to achieving that.

Francesca Jaynes choreography, especially in the final number is especially noteworthy and the gasps from the audience would have been incredibly gratifying were she there to have heard them. That’s because behind the nineties nostalgia and political satire there’s a strong and pertinent message for the audience here in 2023. Harry and Steve don’t pack their punches at the end and it will leave the audience with much to ponder as they leave the theatre.



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