“Do it for Islington”
You make theatre, musical or otherwise, out of political satire at your peril. Last month at the Waterloo East Theatre saw UKIP! The Musical, written last year, already feel like a period piece and at the same venue, Corbyn the Musical – The Motorcycle Diaries has now opened, written more recently but still unable to keep up with the fast-moving and quite frankly ridiculous state of modern British politics and the media coverage thereof.
It’s not so much that Corbyn the Musical feels dated but rather that the nature of its comedy means that you want it to be as up to date as possible as the days when Corbyn’s every action was decried as a front page gaffe seem to have passed. This show is competing in a market where the likes of Merton and Hislop are able to quickly respond to, for example, Ken Livingstone being cornered in a disabled loo having to defend his views on Hitler (a subject surely ripe for a one-man musical epic) and as such, lacks the requisite contemporary bite.
Instead we get this rather odd fantasia from political pundits Bobby Friedman and Rupert Myers, wherein the roots of a near-future Russian nuclear crisis are to be discovered in the secrets of a 1970s holiday the now-Prime Minister Corbyn took with his then-lover Diane Abbott, much to the chagrin of an aggrieved and smitten Vladimir Putin. It is at least equal rights satire, so everyone gets it in the neck, from Boris to Blair and Trump, and many of the gags are pleasingly sharp-edged.
Musically, Jen Green’s score is diverse, cribbing influences from all over the show, and dynamic enough but the show drags fatally far too often, pacing flatlining where some judicious editing is sorely needed. But Martin Neely makes a convincing Corbyn in both time periods (and for all the lampooning, a sympathetic figure whose normality feels like a blessing in this time of self-interested politicians), Natasha Lewis’ Diane Abbott is inspired, as is David Muscat’s Putin (he also plays Boris). An oddity but amusing enough and wisely with no plans for it to be reprised, of its moment even as it passes by.