DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Partly Political – Theatre Royal, Wakefield

Performers: Rory Bremner,Jan Ravens &Jo Caulfield
Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Times are hard for a satirical political impressionist. In his Wakefield show Rory Bremner himself quoted the great Tom Lehrer: “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize,” and things, he claimed, have got worse since 1973 – and who would disagree? So, although his Donald Trump was spot-on, the original is so remorselessly self-satirising that Bremner’s version hardly seemed cutting-edge humour.

Dealing with the actual impressions doesn’t get easier either. Trump may indeed be a gift to the impressionist, but so many others are pale characters that it is not surprising that Bremner found time to shoe-horn in old favourites such as Tony Blair, Ken Clarke and David Blunkett – “You knew where you were with Blunkett,” insisted Bremner, bemoaning the colourlessness of the current crop. And, to make matters worse for him, most of the interesting politicians these days are female. Hence the appearance of the excellent Jan Ravens, cannily observing that, in the past, she decided to take on newsreaders because the chaps had the politicians. The result: a stock of impressions from Sophie Raworth and Fiona Bruce to Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon.

For all that Rory Bremner, accomplished impressionist, amiable raconteur and general good guy, kept a capacity Theatre Royal audience entertained and totally on his side. However, for the night before the election, there was an absence of excitement, no sense of danger. Bremner was topical enough, pushing questions at the audience about their reaction to the election, the television broadcasts, etc. It’s not his fault that we’re not all praying for the coming of Brexit or eagerly grasping at a Corbynist future.

However, the evening that emerged showed a lack of disciplined organisation. Bremner’s engaging personality and quick-wittedness carried the show which tended always to revert to the default position of him delivering his view of the world with much genuine puzzlement and many witty impressions: Jeremy Corbyn, incidentally, remains a promising work in progress, Theresa May left on the shelf.

In the first half, Bremner divided the time with Jo Caulfield. Her nice sharp set of observational comedy included a major riff covering the not over-original subject of false friendship in cafes and shops and finally focussed on her recalcitrant husband.

Set up behind Bremner or Caulfield from the start were a table and two chairs, unused until Bremner announced during the second half that there were two reasons why he didn’t do Theresa May: he wasn’t very good and Jan Ravens had the character nailed down. Cue Ravens to chat political impressions with Bremner and deliver superb takes on everyone from Nicola Sturgeon to Diane Abbott.

Bremner and Ravens are wonderfully accomplished impressionists and know how to keep an audience happy, but it was odd that so much of the evening was about impressionists’ problems rather than their targets.

Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed

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