Composer, Lyricist, Book: Richard Thomas
Additional Lyrics & Book: Stewart Lee
Director: James Baker
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
Talk about making a statement and putting yourself on the map! That’s precisely what Northern Ricochet have gone and done with their inaugural production. Choosing to stage Jerry Springer The Opera as your first production takes some balls: it’s a risky strategy, but it’s a risk that has paid off because this is a fantastic piece of work!
Written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, Jerry Springer The Opera premiered at the National Theatre in 2003. It courted controversy at every turn with its continued use of profanity, and some would say blasphemous depiction of Christ, which drew protests outside any theatres brave enough to stage the production. Despite the controversy, the production picked up several Olivier Awards, and was even broadcast on terrestrial TV.
The intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre lends itself perfectly to the production as we, the audience, are sat either side of the stage, the ensemble cast file in and we’re invited to become part of the mob, as a “Go Jerry” chant breaks out. They then express their thirst to see scandal, heartbreak and bloodshed – the more outrageous, the better. This along with the arrival of the Warmup Man (Tom Lloyd) is the perfect setup for what is about to come.
Soon the mild-mannered ‘shit stirrer’, Jerry Springer (Michael Howe) enters the bear pit bating a group of guests into revealing their dirty, dark secrets, hiding behind his ‘nice guy’ persona and his security guard Steve (Kai Jolley).
The confessionals are a series of profanity riddled musical numbers about a love triangle which then becomes more complicated than anyone could have imagined. Later there is the story of an adult baby with some serious diaper issues, finishing with a war of words between a married couple at odds over her choice of career. The introduction of the Ku Klux Klan does nothing to calm the situation, whilst providing the perfect setup for the second act and Springer’s biggest challenge yet: he’ll be the mediator between Satan and Jesus!
What the founding members of Northern Ricochet (James Baker, Tom Chester and Bill Elms) have created with this production is quite extraordinary. This is a fresh, relevant and hilarious piece of theatre that everyone should rush to see. If you like your humour close to the bone, then this is the show for you. If you’re easily offended and like a whinge and a moan, this is also the show for you as there’s plenty in there that will cause offense!
Leaving the controversy aside, this also a slick, bold production that showcases the cream of local talent: the auditions for the show all took place in the North of England, and judging by the talent on display here the Northern Powerhouse of theatreland is moving a lot quicker than the government’s proposal of the same name.
Howe is a revelation as Springer, fully capturing the charisma and mischief of the American TV presenter. In addition, there are some Jaw-dropping vocal performances from the entire cast: be they solo numbers or ensemble tunes: each one will have you laughing out, whilst seeing you pick your jaw up off the floor.
The issues that the show was addressing back in 2003 are still relevant today, if anything they’re worse. The production sends up The Trump administration, as well as our reliance on social media, with a few subtle and not so subtle jokes that hit their mark with rapier precision.
This is like that naughty kid who was in your class at school: vulgar, full of mischief: you didn’t want to like them but couldn’t help to. Most of all you wanted to see just how outrageous they could be, well this is as shocking and offensive as it can be and it’s all the better for it!
Runs until 31 August 2019 | Image: Anthony Robling