Laurence Peacock with music by Hollie Morrell
The Dancehouse, Manchester 15 April 2017
Boris Johnson is adept at manipulating the media to give the impression that he is a harmless duffer rather than a soulless political opportunist. The members of Blowfish Theatre have clearly learnt some of his tricks at endearing themselves to the public. Before Boris the Musical begins David Burchhardt, who takes the title role, is working through the audience wearing a shaggy blonde wig, glad-handing the patrons and braying like a posh donkey.
As one might expect from a show inspired by the misadventures of Boris Johnson some liberties have been taken with the truth. The title is not really accurate; with a bare stage, very limited dance moves and a sketchy plot Boris the Musical is more of a comic revue with songs than an actual musical. It is, however, a very funny revue.
Composer Hollie Morrell ensures that the audience is able to relate to the songs by making them pastiches of numbers with which they are already familiar. With titles like How Do You Solve a Problem Like a Boris? it is pretty easy to identify the source material. Morrell’s use of the tunes is strikingly effective – the oafish and crude behaviour of the Bullingdon Club is set to a hard rock backing. Best of all is an irresistibly catchy Gospel sing along invoking belief in the benefits of Brexit that opens the second half of the show.
The storyline is slender. There is some suggestion that Cameron, Johnson and Gove were obsessed with settling scores from their school days rather than concerned with running the country but, in the main, the show is episodic – jumping from one of Boris’s cock-ups to another.
Author Laurence Peacock (who co-directs with Kyle Williams) recognises that Boris Johnson is simply immune to satire and widens the scope of the musical to include more general aspects of social inequality. ‘We’re born to rule,’ sing the pupils of Eton. ‘ We’ve never heard of Liverpool.’ If anything Peacock is spoilt for choice in the range of material that he can use as the basis for gags and the first half of the show becomes something of a giddy rush from one hilarious joke to another. There is, however, the occasional moment where the humour puzzlingly fails in particular a ‘ funny foreigner ‘ routine that is just not funny.
The co-directors Laurence Peacock and Kyle Williams seem to have taken inspiration from Tina Turner’s 1980s dance routines in staging the musical. Boris (David Burchhardt) is flanked by Liz Kearney and Polly Bycroft-Brown who are in fine form as backing singers/ Greek Chorus and also jump into character as Cameron and Gove (the latter portrayed as the school swot who never gets invited to any social event which seems pretty accurate). Burchhardt catches the swaggering arrogance of Boris Johnson but ensures that he remains a slightly pathetic figure – a child who never grew up and remains prone to tantrums when he doesn’t get the things he thinks he deserves.
Boris the Musical is denied the chance to make Boris a tragic figure, as that would entail a degree of self-awareness and repentance on the part of the character, which is not something that the audience would find credible. It remains however, a very funny show, which is something of a blessed relief as the UK struggles with the aftermath of Boris’s Brexit shenanigans.
Boris the Musical returns to Manchester as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival at the Z-arts Theatre 27-29th July, 2017
Reviewer: David Cunningham