“What the hell do we do now?”
Part of the problem that faces writers trying to satirise Brexit is that the daily influx of tragic, comic and tragicomic headlines are more outlandish than they could surely have ever imagined. A glimpse at the day’s stories shows our estimable foreign secretary thinking it OK to tell EU leaders to “go whistle”, the PM apparently keen on cross-party working, people waking up to the devastating impact of leaving the European atomic energy community, Euratom, without a carefully negotiated replacement – really, who needs satire.
Which leaves Brexodus! The Musical in a bit of a pickle as it seeks to mine its own vein of humour through a revue-like (and politically even-handed) skip through the key events of the whole Brexit process. Librettist David Shirreff works his cast hard, some of them covering more than 10 roles throughout the show, which means that it can take a little too long to work out who someone is, even in their brief time onstage. Two men in suits are David Cameron and George Osbourne, blink and suddenly they’re David Davis and Liam Fox, though it takes substantially longer to work out that this is what has happened.
Brexodus is strongest when it threatens to go over the top – Scott Jones’ Gollum-like Michael Gove is well done, as are the ever-helpful Nick and Fiona, Theresa May’s now former advisers, but these moments prove few and far between. The scattershot approach of trying to cover all bases means that very few are hit effectively and some strange choices – the ‘regular people from Sunderland’ segments, the amount of airtime Laura Corbyn gets – results in a real lack of coherence. A coda bringing us up-to-date politically just further stretches the narrative without delving sufficiently to find the humour.
Frederick Appleby and Russell Sarre’s songs don’t really offer much assistance – musically, their piano-based simplicity ends up feeling unremarkable across the two hours of the running time. And lyrically, David Shirreff doesn’t quite do enough to give enough comic bite, too often settling for random references (Boris and Putin’s Eurotrash rap-off ranges from Boris Gudunov to Mystic Meg…) and clever rhymes. Lucy Appleby’s direction does ensure committed performances from her hard-working company of 5 and in their more spontaneous moments – Jones working in a RuPaul reference, James Sanderson’s Boris interacting with the front row, there’s a feeling of what this show could actually be.