Spitting Image was a key satirical series from 1984-1996 before being resurrected for Britbox in 2020-2021. Using latex puppets to lampoon a variety of well-known figures, it was a huge hit in its day.
Surprisingly, this show is the first time the concept created by ‘Luck and Flaw’ has taken to the stage. Flanked by a set of ageing proscenium boxes, our show begins with Ian McKellen introducing proceedings.
King Charles (“We will rule you”) wants help in saving the literal skid-marked fabric of society in the UK. A motley magnificent seven led by a tiny Tom Cruise take up the challenge.
Spitting Image is deliberately set to offend practically everybody, with a lot of laughs along the way. There is a lot of swearing and some outdated slurs that might be rethought. But no one watching this expects political correctness.
It works by taking and exaggerating the obvious characteristics of royals politicians and celebrities (Keir Starmer is boring, Suella Braverman is possessed by the devil, Meghan Markle is power-hungry, etc.).
Some choices are eyebrow-raising, as dear old Paddington becomes a trafficker in drug-laced marmalade sandwiches, and Carrie Johnson leads a parade of giant singing penises in the act one finale.
Elsewhere, you will find a slow-mo fight sequence with Tiny Tom, “Putin on the Blitz,” a gung-ho Idris Elba, and some odd interpretations of songs from Cabaret.
With over 100 puppets being manipulated by a talented dozen puppeteers, the technical side of this show is amazing. The voices are prerecorded, which means that an audience may sometimes miss a line landing, but this is a fast-moving show which hardly has time to draw breath.
Political allegiance shouldn’t matter, but recent issues like Partygate are mentioned to bring what Margaret Thatcher calls “a schoolboy and a tw*t” (Sunak and Johnson) to account.
Originally planned as a show called The Liar King focusing on the shortcomings of one Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, events have overtook the show, with rewrites needed.
But with Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation into a kind of demented Braveheart, writers Al Murray, Matt Forde, and Sean Foley (who also directs) have this covered.
They even give the late Queen a last chance of the spotlight, in a couple of moments which are both funny and respectful – to the accompaniment of songs by Queen, of course!
With songs arranged by Spitlip’s Felix Hagan, sets by Alice Power, lighting by Tim Mitchell, sound by Paul Groothuis, and video by Nina Dunn for Pixellux, this is definitely a spectacle which is a feast for the eyes.
Idiots Assemble may lack the satirical bite of the original series, but that could be because everyone is so unredeemingly awful without having to be made worse.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable night out, which you can catch at Birmingham Rep until 11 Mar – tickets here.
Image credit: Mark Senior