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Idiots Assemble – Spitting Image Saves The World: Live on Stage at The Birmingham Rep.

King Charles and Paddington

Go back 40 years and the previous evening’s Spitting Image was the topic of discussion at every water cooler in every office up and down the country. It had a knack for lampooning politics in a way we’d never seen before, using puppets to hold those in power up to scrutiny no matter what side of the fence you fell. At its peak it drew audiences of more than 15 million.

Four decades on and the cutting-edge small screen series has been adapted for the stage; opening with the line “Spitting Image identifies as funny” it delivered exactly that. It’s just as cutting and cruel as it ever was, thanks to a stellar creative team that includes The Rep’s own Artistic Director Sean Foley, original co-creator Roger Law and the comic tour de force of Al Murray and Matt Forde.

The story is fairly farcical but no more improbable than the last year of British politics I guess. The fabric of society (a pair of greying, old pants) is in tatters and it falls at the feet of King Charles to pull together a crack team – led by a teeny, tiny Tom Cruise – to save the UK. As a hammy Ian McKellen presides over the madcap proceedings, Ru Paul, Angela Raynor, Greta Thunberg, Meghan Markle, Idris Elba and Tyson Fury are scouted to make up the Idiots Assembly.

The Tory Cabinet

The puppets are incredible to watch and the timing is absolutely spot on. The scripted impressions are pre-recorded, so there’s a dozen athletic puppeteers constantly using their costumed lower-halves to move around the stage and bring the characters to life. It struck me how quickly you forget you’re watching latex and foam creations – the mouth movements and eye blinks are perfectly timed.

No one is spared, literally (Prince Harry flogs his book Spare at every given opportunity); Keir Starmer made me laugh out loud every time he spoke, and even local girl Alison Hammond makes an appearance, laughing her way through an episode of Bargain Hunt as parts of Britain are flogged off to the highest bidder.

At 2 hours and 20 mins it’s non-stop from start to finish, punctuated with a few musical numbers, including a very clever Putin On The Blitz and the Queen performing, well, Queen. With so many gags and one-liners, it’s no surprise that not every joke fell where it should, but I remember that was often the case with the TV series.

Where it works well it is very funny indeed and there were moments that had the audience in stitches. The scene when the Tory Cabinet  perform their version of The Circle Life from The Lion King – making their way through the auditorium – was genius. As was the portrayal of Suella Braverman as the possessed child from The Exoricst and an orange prison-suited Trump; while Boris, the evil villain, and schoolboy Rishi Sunak were beautifully observed.

Stormzy and Tom Cruise

Idiots Assemble – Spitting Image Saves The World: Live on Stage is at The Birmingam Rep until S