40 years after Spitting Image made its television debut, this rumbustious show is back with a bang. Spitting Image returns to Birmingham in a satirical, live stage incarnation which ridicules the current state of the nation, and most importantly, the idiots running it.
Idiots Assemble begins with a warning. Tonight’s show will respect no ideologies, religions, or “any f***ing thing, really”. It is a shame then, that the satire doesn’t quite live up to this outrageous claim.
We follow a super group of seven celebrities and politicians who, led by a tiny Tom Cruise, join forces to save the fabric of society. Or, in this case, a skid-stained pair of knickers. The show adopts a blend of Marvel’s Avengers and British pantomime, with action-packed fight scenes, dazzling dance numbers and a little bit of audience participation. Narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, we follow the Magnificent Seven (made up of RuPaul, Greta Thunberg, Angela Rayner, Tyson Fury, Idris Elba and Meghan Markle) as they take on the political villains destroying our nation.
Spitting Image is deliciously up to date which is one of its main strengths. The show has made it through 3 rewrites by writers Al Murray, Matt Forde and The Rep’s Artistic Director, Sean Foley to ensure it responds to the ever-changing political climate. The show triumphs during these rewritten moments, with Nicola Sturgeon’s recent resignation highlighting the heart of Spitting Image – making people laugh. Another stand-out comedic moment was the scene in which the Tory Cabinet are summoned outside of 10 Downing Street. The puppets perform a farcical rendition of The Circle Life from The Lion King – precariously making their way through the auditorium in an immersive spectacle. Jacob Rees-Mogg as a gigantic praying mantis was simply unforgettable, as was the portrayal of Suella Braverman as the possessed child from The Exorcist.
The true stars of this show, though, are the twelve puppeteers. Their deft manipulation of over 100 puppets, many of a large scale, is seriously impressive. As is the work of the voiceover artists who nail most of their impressions.
Spitting Image Live is a technical and visual marvel. However, the gags are far less radical and cutting edge than that of its progenitor. Despite some genuinely outstanding comedic moments, these were few and far between. The bulk of the joke-writing was predictable, with the script leaning into cliches and obvious punchlines, such as Meghan Markle being desperate for attention. It lacks the political bite necessary to make the show a satirical success. The storyline was also laboured, and overly long scenes struggled to land a punch, which made the show feel sluggish at times. The two-hour narrative hampers it, and a series of individual, fast-paced sketches might well have worked in Spitting Image’s favour.
After the start to this decade, we all need a good laugh. If you enjoy making fun of celebrities, politicians, and the Royal Family then this is the perfect show for you. But, expect to chuckle and not guffaw.