Friday, July 07, 2017

'Brexodus! The Musical' opens at The Other Palace

 Donald Trump (James Sanderson) waltzes with Theresa May (Airlie Scott) 

James Sanderson as Boris Johnson 

Brexiteers vs Remainers in the final song: Heseltine (Paul Croft) and Mandelson (Scott Jones): "It's time, it's time, it's time, to stop exchanging oaths,
And say the empress has no clothes, the empress has no clothes."

Brexodus! The Musical, which opens at The Other Palace in Westminster on 11 July, is a highly amusing and thought-provoking satire on Brexit in song, dialogue and dance. The five-evening run at comes on the heels of the musical’s successful run to packed-out audiences at the Canal Café Theatre in Little Venice on 27-30 June.

The show has a richly talented cast of five versatile actors - James Sanderson, Airlie Scott, Paul Croft, Mike Duran and Scott Jones - playing some 46 roles. It is an updated, expanded and renamed version of Brexit! The Musical, which debuted at the Canal Café Theatre in November 2016 and was performed at the Waterloo East Theatre in January and at OSO Arts Centre in Barnes in February. On 1 February, there was a performance by special invitation in the Press Gallery of the Houses of Parliament.

Much has happened on the Brexit front since Brexit! The Musical was staged. Writer David Shirreff and composer Russell Sarre have added half an hour of fresh material and many new characters to the original hour-long musical, to create Brexodus! The Musical.  The show's musical director Frederick Appleby (deputised by John West) plays the songs and incidental music on an on-stage piano.  The production is directed by Lucy Appleby (no relation).

Brexit! The Musical had several changes of cast in its various stagings, and the cast of Brexodus! The Musical is largely new, though James Sanderson is a constant. Dressed in a blond wig and bicycle helmet, he reprises the role of Boris Johnson which he made hilariously his own.He also plays the new role of Donald Trump, along with Lords Pannick and Newby, First Eurocrat and civil servant Philpot.

Actor Paul Croft, a great comic presence, plays no fewer than 13 roles - from a tipsy Jean-Claude Juncker to Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, Liam Fox, President Erdogan and, clad as Tarzan, Lord Heseltine. Airlie Scott in silvery wig is a glamorous Theresa May waltzing with Trump; her other roles include Michael Gove's ambitious wife Sarah Vine, Jeremy Corbyn's wife Laura, Angela Merkel and Karen, a rare Remainer from Sunderland.

Scott Jones plays inter alia a creepy Michael Gove and Lord Mandelson. A rap between Jones' Putin and Sanderson's Boris Johnson is a highlight of the show. Mike Duran is a journalist (who interviewed many ministers) as well as an actor. As the then Prime Minister David Cameron, his song "I took the train to Brussels" opens the musical. His other roles include Andrea Leadsom, Iain Duncan Smith, Tony Blair, David Davis and Lord Tebbit, Shirref even manages to squeeze on stage Theresa May's powerful ex-political advisers, the "terrible twins" Nick Timothy (Duran) and Fiona Hill (a bewigged Jones)

Brexodus! The Musical is the fourth musical on political and financial crises to be written by financial journalist Shirreff in collaboration with composer Sarre. The series began with Broke Britannia in 2009, followed by EuroCrash! (2011) and Barack and the Beanstalk (2013).

Shirreff says of the revamped show: “We’re chasing a moving target. Every passing week the goal of Brexit seems to get further away. Exodus took 40 years. How long do we think Brexodus will take? Yet we've managed to compress this huge subject into a mere 90 minutes of wicked words and great songs. Among the fresh highlights are Theresa’s waltz with Donald Trump, Blair’s not-so-secret anti-Brexit plan, Corbyn as rock star, dodgy batsmanship from Boris, and the conspiracies of Tarzan and the Prince of Darkness.”

Shirreff has reported on finance since the early 1980s, and was with The Economist in London, Frankfurt and Berlin from 2001 to 2014. He is the author of several books including Dealing with Financial Risk (Profile Books, 2004) and Don’t Start from Here: We Need a Banking Revolution (Crunch Books, 2014), and Break Up the Banks! : A Practical Guide to Stopping the Next Global Financial Meltdown (Melville House Publishing, 2016).

Interview with David Shirreff 

David Shirreff 

Where did you find such a fine ensembles of actors? 
There is a huge pool of young professional actors/singers who are keen to keep in front of their public, even if the pay is minimal. Most of them have other jobs – run bars, sing jazz, do stand-up. I’m lucky that if they love the play they’ll take the risk that they won’t make much money.

Please say a bit about the writing process by you, composer Russell Sarre and musical director and pianist Frederick Appleby: how did you first meet? Does your work have any particular influences? 
I write a draft of the whole libretto before I involve the composer. The writing process can be quite fast, if I’m suitably inspired. And it can happen in strange places. I’ve written chunks of my musicals on holiday in Italy, Greece, Austria, Germany in between bouts of physical immersion in things like skiing, sailing, swimming etc. That seems to keep the brain fresh.

The influences are everything that has made me laugh since I was a child: the Goons, Flanders and Swann, Gilbert and Sullivan, Tom Lehrer, Monty Python, Richard Stilgoe (a less famous but very clever song-writer). I would say Gilbert and Sullivan are the strongest because their characters, however ridiculous, take themselves extremely seriously. I try to follow that model.

I met Russell Sarre in Germany – he was a mate, Goon-show addict, and fellow card-player long before I came to write my first musical in 2009. As I was desperately thinking of someone who could write tunes to my songs I remembered, wasn’t Russell supposed to be a composer? His sense of humour is probably more acute than mine. Frederick Appleby goes to the same church in Barnes, where he occasionally plays the piano. He joined the show as our musical director, then wrote two wonderful songs for it when Russell was overloaded.

after the show: David Shirreff (L) with James Sanderson, who plays inter alia Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Lord Pannick and a Eurocrat

What are the main differences between ‘Brexit! The Musical’ and ‘Brexodus! The Musical?’
Just as Brexit has morphed into an all-consuming saga, more like an Exodus than an exit, so too has the show. Part 1 is more or less the same as in the original, starting in February 2016 and ending with Theresa May’s first attempt to trigger Article 50 without consulting Parliament.

Part 2 starts in the High Court and follows the chaotic course of May’s premiership so far: her visit to Trump, her battles with Brussels and the House of Lords, and the ill-fated election. Meanwhile Boris charges around like a loose cannon; the anti-Brexit conspirators (Blair, Heseltine, Mandelson) gather; and Jeremy Corbyn achieves rock-star status. Just as the Brexit process has become more serious, and looks deeply damaging to the country, so the show is darker, the comedy perhaps not so much of a romp, more ringing alarm bells, in I hope still an amusing way.

Are future runs planned?
We have a week planned in October (2nd to 7th) at the OSO Arts Centre in Barnes. We would love to do more shows around the UK and perhaps in Brussels, Berlin and even Paris. But this needs private money, or state subsidy, and I’m running out of funds.

Will other recincarnations of the show come along as things develop Brexit-wise? 
There might be room for a part 3 if something dramatic happens – if Boris or Jeremy Corbyn become PM, if there’s a Breversal and Brexit never happens.

What are your views and feelings about Brexit one year on from the referendum? Have they changed since the first staging of the show in its original form?
As I said, Brexit might once have been a bit of a joke, but it certainly isn’t now. Just arguing about the process seems to be tearing our country apart. Surely there are far more important things to be concerned about than going through with such unnecessary self-harm. I blame the so-called Remainers almost as much as I blame the Brexiteers, because if they stood together they could stop this nonsense in its tracks. There’s no cohesion in the Remain camp.

Paul Croft as Jeremy Corbyn, Airlie Scott as Laura Corbyn 

How did the performance in the House of Commons Press Gallery go?
It was a tremendous experience, playing in such a place on the day of the vote on triggering Article 50 (1 February). The MPs, of both persuasions, who turned up, seemed to love the show. We were royally hosted by the Press Corps. I think a good time was had by all. Did we exert any influence on those political minds? I don’t think so, but they had a laugh.

What audience reactions did you have to the Canal Café Theatre run? The night I was there the responses were very positive.
Interestingly, I think the audiences were less inclined to belly-laugh than they were in the runs in November and January. We, the cast and I, think that is because the nature of Brexit has changed. We’re no longer so gleeful about the mess our political leaders have created. As the final song says:

It’s time, it’s time, it’s time,
To call a spade a spade,
And end this wild escapade,
This wild escapade.

 It’s time, it’s time, it’s time,
To stop exchanging oaths
And say the empress has no clothes,
The empress has no clothes.

I think most audiences have liked the show, but one or two people have commented that the subject-matter is now a bit serious for sheer comedy. We’re trying to play it less for laughs, more as a tragi-comedy. It will also benefit from an interval at The Other Palace. 90 minutes in one go was a bit long, for both audience and cast, I feel.

In addition to their being thoroughly entertained, do you hope that audiences take away some kind of“message” or deeper understanding of Brexit and the characters involved? 
I hope so. Although I love see that we’re entertaining people, I would hate to think that there is no more to the show than just laughs. I’ve written my musicals not just to have fun but to vent my frustration with the mess that our political/economic leadership have created. Serious journalism didn’t do that for me. I’m not cut out to work political change in any other way apart from writing. And comedy is a good mirror, I think.
interview conducted by Susannah Tarbush in London 

The Lords' risk abolition: "But we'll never crumble, though governments tumble" 
Fierce debate in the House of Lords over triggering Article 50