Review: Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves The World

Photos by Mark Senior

It was just around the corner from where the world premiere of Spitting Image Live took place at The Repertory Theatre last week, that the original TV series was born.

The BAFTA and Emmy award-winning satirical Spitting Image television series originally ran for 18 series between 1984 and 1996 and was watched by over 15 million viewers.

Now, adapted for the stage, Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves The World brings together the most unique collection of celebrities ever in one space. Let me set the scene – Tom Cruise is tasked by King Charles with saving Great Britain. Greta Thunberg duets with Stormzy and Tyson Fury finds love with Ru Paul, while Putin and Xi watch on from their premium seats in the stalls. This is a show which you could say is simultaneously inspired, and appalled, by real events.

Spitting Image, Birmingham Repertory Theatre

What results is a satirical cross between Mission Impossible and Marvel’s Avengers in which a tiny Tom Cruise recruits his army of ‘heroes’ including Idris Elba, Angela Rayner and Meghan Markle to take on the enemy – in the guise of blustering Boris Johnson, public schoolboy Richi Sunak, a hilariously demonic Suella Braverman and Elon Musk as a transformer mechanically unfolding from a Tesla car. Yes, that’s right!

Written by Al Murray, Matt Forde and the Rep’s artistic director Sean Foley (who also directs), the creative team also features original Spitting Image writer Roger Law. Keeping pace with the rapidly changing line-up of political players is a challenge they more than rise to, constantly re-writing the show since its inception – even this week adding one-liners from ‘Nicola Sturgeon’ referencing her resignation.

Spitting Image, Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Highlights of the show are most definitely the latex caricatures and the talented puppeteers and impersonators who bring them to life. And, while some of the comedy just falls slightly short of the mark, where it does land, it hits the funny bone hard, such as the ingenious Cossack dancing Putin On The Blitz parody, which gives us all some feelgood belly laughs at the Russian leader’s expense; Circle of Jerks, which takes a sinister swipe at the Tory cabinet or Carrie Johnson’s song and dance routine about penises.

There are also plenty of stand-out recurring comedy themes, my favourites among them being King Charles’ rendition of Queen songs and Suella Braverman’s rubber-faced alter-ego – as the possessed child from The Exorcist!

Spitting Image, Birmingham Repertory Theatre

The show has been criticised for its flimsy storyline, but surely this is not the point of what has traditionally been a successful sketch show format. That said, it does lend itself better to the half-hourly TV show format.

Nevertheless, I walked away at the end of the night feeling thoroughly entertained and impressed. Nervous about how well Spitting Image would translate to the stage, I needn’t have worried. It was a spectacle in every sense – and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending you buy a ticket.

Comedian Al Murray, who is a co-writer and voiceover artist on the show, sums it up well. . .

“It’s a who’s who of the not so good, the bad and the ugly. I know Marvel like to say it, but our show is the greatest cross-over event of all time. Where else could you get Michael Gove, Taylor Swift, Tom Cruise, Sir Ian McKellen, Alison Hammond, Idris Elba, Daniel Craig, Harry Styles, Meghan Markle and Paddington Bear on a single stage?”

Spitting Image, Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Fellow writer Matt Forde added: “We are living through an insane, abnormal, infuriating period, so the timing of this show couldn’t be better. It’s vital that we see our leaders lampooned with cutting satire and yes, whacked over the head with a big stick.”

I don’t think anyone would argue with that.

Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves the World runs at Birmingham Rep until Saturday, 11th March. To book tickets visit here or call 0121 236 4455.

MP for Birmingham Yardley Jess Phillips had a brief cameo in the show – well her puppet did! Hear what she had to say after curtain down here

Jess Phillips MP, Spitting Image

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