Review; Big Society, City Varieties

Phill Jupitus in music hall comedy Big Society!
Phill Jupitus in music hall comedy Big Society!

TOFFS at the top, police corruption, unscrupulous media and a gaping chasm between rich and poor may not seem like topics with ample scope to raise a laugh, but they’ve provided rich pickings for Red Ladder Theatre’s latest show.

Set in 1910, this music hall comedy whisks the audience back to a time “when the country was run by ex-public schoolboys and boasted an anachronistic ruling class of monarchy, aristocracy and nobility” – sound familiar?

Written by Chumbawamba’s Boff Whalley in response to merciless government cuts, it brilliantly sends up David Cameron’s unconvincing claims that “we’re all in this together” with a catchy clutch of rousing, sing-along songs.

The superb cast, starring Phill Jupitus, play a troupe of Edwardian music hall performers whose stage skits satirise our own times. There are witty numbers about all the Old Etonians in Parliament (The Old School Tie), police brutality (No-one Trusts a Copper Anymore) and media hypocrisy (The Man from the Double Standard), plus a ventriloquist act with Jupitus as Cameron and Nick ‘Little Nicholas’ Clegg as his puppet.

Their backstage drama is at times a little less entertaining than the out-and-out parody, and the show is quite long at three hours, but the strength of the performances and the comedy throughout is more than enough to buoy it up.

Whalley and Hebden Bridge director Rod Dixon have infused a political piece of theatre with popular appeal, and the result is everything a good music hall comedy should be.

It’s bold, bawdy, spit-out-your-interval-wine funny and above all, a show for the people, judging by the guffaws from the audience, Catch it until February 4.

Emily Heward