Fringe Box



Stage Dragon Review: Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 1 Jun, 2023
Updated on: 1 Jun, 2023

By Ferenc Hepp

I dare you not to shake with laughter in your seat and not to leave the theatre with a huge smile on your face. Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is pure comedy at its best, which you will remember for a long time. If you can’t catch it in Guildford before the end of the week, it is on a tour throughout the UK. Hear, hear!

Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

The recommendation this week at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre is 14-plus, however, it does help if you were an adult in the 1990s in order to be familiar with the numerous famous names, mostly from the political world, who are portrayed in this show. Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) was written by Harry Hill, with music and lyrics by Steve Brown and directed by Peter Rowe.

Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

This five star rated musical romp moves at a very fast pace from beginning to end, and tells the story of the Labour prime minister, literally from birth to the end of his reign.

The design is simple but effective. The band of only three players is visible at the back of the stage and the colour scheme is black and red, including the set and costumes.

Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

One of the characters we meet first is Peter Mandelson, who played a key role in the Blair administration and who was one of the first to whom the term ‘spin doctor’ was applied. Howard Samuels offers a wonderfully camp and energetic Mandelson, with an abundance of humour.

We race through Blair’s childhood years, and soon meet Gordon Brown and Cherie Booth who was to become Cherie Blair after marrying Tony. Tori Burgess’ Scouse Cherie captures her love, loyalty and strength at the same time perfectly. Their romance starts with an Edith Piaf style solo from Tori, which turns into a tango style number between the two of them.

Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre..

Phil Sealey’s Gordon Brown is instantly recognisable, with his downturned mouth and characteristic way of speaking. However, it was not just us who laughed out loud and had a great time.

This cast have lots of fun on stage too, and this was especially obvious, when something did not quite go right technically with showing Cherie’s pregnancy. Whether it was a mishap just at this performance, or a deliberate mistake panto style, it caused lots of hilarity for the actors, as well as us.

The 1997 landslide Labour victory means that Blair has the opportunity to meet Princess Diana, and their famous dance and connection is re-enacted brilliantly by Emma Jay Thomas as the People’s Princess.

Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre..

Things go somewhat pear-shaped in the world when the war on terror is declared, and that is when we meet Osama Bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein, but even though they were most unsavoury characters, the humour and laughter does not stop.

Rosie Strobel as John Prescott and Sally Cheng as Robin Cook keep coming up with classic lines, being entertaining with their physical attributes, and there are many quick changes.

Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

However, a special mention must go to Guildford School of Acting graduate, Jack Whittle, in the title role. His portrayal of Tony Blair with a constant grin on his face, hand gestures, movement and voice are perfect and hilarious.

This company does not just make the most of Harry Hill’s humour with a performance that moves at speed and provides belly laughs throughout, but there are also many musical numbers of various styles, influenced by sources which include Sondheim, Gilbert and Sullivan, musicals and rock opera.

Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

According to the director’s notes: “There’s vaudeville, stand-up, pantomime… visual gags and more beards, wigs and hats than you can shake a slapstick at.”

Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) runs until Saturday, June 3, and tickets are available via or 01483 440000.

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