Big Society! A Music Hall Comedy.

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A word never to be uttered onstage by the beleaguered Edwardian entertainers performing under the baleful scrutiny of the tabloid press in this timely new political satire. 

It is also a blunt Anglo-Saxon battle cry that sums up producers Red Ladder/ Chumbawamba’s response to the ConDem coalition’s daft idea that we are all in it together as our communities are slashed to death. 

The idea of Big Society! is pretty simple.  Focus on the attitudes and political realities of an Edwardian music hall company to draw some pretty obvious parallels to our government, who seem determined to drive us back to a world of grinding poverty and workhouses. 

The other clever touch is to see what happens on stage and then switch to some very funny backstage shenanigans. Think of it as a lefty Noises Off. 

Phill Jupitus is the big draw and he brings his huge West End experience to blowhard comic George Lightfeather, but there are echoes of his earlier life in the turbulent 80s as Porky the Ranting Poet. He is the backbone of the show combining a strong voice with a clear contempt for the shower ruining our country. 

But make no mistake this is an ensemble piece and he is equalled by the mesmerising Lisa Howard as the brassy Geordie showgirl who literally shags King Edward to death.  Her front of house song and dance routines with the more precise Kyla Goodey are divine.  Harry Hamer hams it up manfully as Magic Barry who is a poor man’s Paul Daniels as his tricks continually misfire. 

Even in this good heated musical there has to be a villain, and long time Red Ladder collaborator Dean Nolan is perfectly verbose as the craven posh boy Master of Cermonies, and whose only friend is Marcel the imaginary monkey. 

The other stars of the show are the new songs from Boff Whalley that cleverly bring together pastiches of old style music hall standards with plenty of digs at the emptiness of the 21st century big society.  

Whilst this wonderfully staged show is not exactly Brecht it is biting in parts, especially when Phill plays the smarmy PM Dave as a venquilitrist complete with pathetic dummy Little Nicky on his knee parroting his vacuous newspeak. 

The only concern is that the politics are a little too broad brush strokes, and it may just be preaching to the converted as every lefty in Yorkshire will have this in their diary between selling newspapers. 

But no matter as Big Society! is not only bold, ambitious and played with huge energy, but makes us think through laughs which is just what we need in these desperate times. 

 * Big Society! A Music Hall Comedy runs until 4 February at the City Varieties.  Tickets priced £10 – £17 available on 0113 2430808 or