Theatre Review: Idiots Assemble - Spitting Image The Musical

Photo of the safety curtain, showing caricatures of famous people.Well, this is a glorious mess! The puppetry is astounding. The grey-clad puppeteers manipulate their charges with grace, precision, and joy. The work is so much more intricate than, say, Avenue Q. The mannerisms of the Tom Cruise doll are perfectly executed, with subtle moments of genius. The puppets range from miniscule to gigantic, with some requiring multiple people to bring them to life.

The problem with satire is that it relies on current events. If you watch old Spitting Image episodes on TV half the jokes fall flat because you don't remember that particular scandal, nor that has-been TV star. The stage show simply can't react to current events because all the voices are pre-recorded! There's absolutely no room for the show to grow. The performers can't even pause for laughter.

The stage show gets around this by setting the "plot" in the week before the coronation. It sort of works. The story is an incoherent jumble of sketches and songs. Some of the satire is breathtakingly good - literally had the whole theatre gasping at their audacity. Other bits fall flat. In that way, it's very similar to the original TV show - when it works, it soars. But it does feel flabby. Again, if the voices were live they could react to the audience and work out what needs trimming or beefing up.

Some of the satire is a bit lazy. It isn't exactly the height of sophistication to refer to Prince Andrew as "Nonce Andrew" or having Greta Thunberg going into a lustful frenzy over Stormzy. They're obviously playing to the crowd of geriatrics who remember the 1990s show - John Major being grey and boring isn't exactly cutting-edge comedy.

We saw the 2nd night performance and there were still a number of technical glitches - mostly with out of synch sound - which really ought to have been resolved. The sound mixing isn't great - I felt like subtitles wouldn't have gone amiss.

Overall, Spitting Image is daftly entertaining. Silly songs, a pull-no-punches glee at shitting over everyone, and technical brilliance. It's let down by a ramshackle script and inability to reflect this week's news.

I must also add that the theatre experience is dire. The auditorium doors didn't open until a few minutes before showtime - which meant a few hundred people cramped inside the bars, unable to move. Unlike, say, Cabaret, there has been no thought given to the pre-show experience. They could have had some of the original TV show puppets on display, or a TV showing clips, or concept artwork or people to view. Instead there is... nothing. A lacklustre programme, the standard overpriced drinks, and no understanding that a modern audience is there for an experience as well as a show.

Oh, and the toilets were filthy, cramped, and over-capacity.

Theatres have to realise that the cost of a single ticket pays for a year's subscription to Netflix. The West End is a luxury and has to reflect a premium experience. Shovelling as many people into a dilapidated theatre and asking them to pay a fiver for a tiny tub of ice-cream doesn't cut it any more.

The show runs until 26th August 2023.


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