When Blowfish Theatre first developed Boris the Musical, back in 2016, they thought it would barely last a summer. Five years on, the saga continues - and the old adage about truth being stranger than fiction never felt so resonant. Given the time frame covered (Boris the Musical 3: The Johnson Supremacy focuses on the period from autumn 2019 to early 2021), I did have a slight concern that it might all feel a bit too raw for a satirical sing-song, but I needn’t have worried – this show is like a weird kind of laughter therapy.
The show starts with a befuddled Alexander (AKA Boris to us, the grubby public) unsure about his next steps, having achieved the big goal of becoming PM. Cue a nice, easy phrase from manic pixie strategist Dominic Cummings – Get Brexit Done – and election victory. The horribly catchy pop anthem that is ‘We’re All Tories Now!’ reminds you that old ideas about who votes Conservative had just been lobbed onto Labour’s flaming bonfire of redundant assumptions.
We all know what comes next: Brexit is declared ‘sorted’ and signed off, Boris/Alex relaxes on a Caribbean holiday, Dom culls civil servants, and all appears to be going to plan. But then… a worried Whitty tries to explain that this new virus that’s ‘a bit like flu’ is not actually flu, and gung-ho ideas of herd immunity need reconsidering in the light of projected deaths (more than 20,000…). We start the ‘few weeks’ of lockdown one, Boris gets ill, Carrie has the baby, and the word ‘unprecedented’ gets used to explain anything uncomfortable.
Up to this point, Boris the Musical has been relatively kind to its protagonist – sure, there are the low hanging fruit of Eton-related jibes, his casual upper crust racism, avoidance of policy details and Churchill worship (brilliantly depicted when the 'darkest hour' moment triggers the Pavlovian response of a muddled ‘...we shall fight them…’ speech). But compared to Jeremy Corbyn, Momentum, Kier Starmer and Jo Swinson, he’s been let off lightly – still wearing the crown of the clown, and letting Dom be cast as the evil genius. However, there’s then a detour – to Barnard Castle.
Once Dom has crossed that line, and Bojo backs him up on the realisation that, as with Brexit, words don’t have to mean anything (conveyed through a sinister, storming drum and bass tune with the chant “STAY AT HOME, translates as BARNARD CASTLE!”), the mood shifts. We get the show’s single serious moment – regular people talking about loved ones dying in hospital and being allowed nothing more than an iPad call to say goodbye.
Although it’s not always easy to be reminded quite how messed up 2020 and early 2021 were, it’s gratifying when the knives come out in the second half. We see a man who has learnt almost nothing from the first wave, and a system rewarding cronyism over competence. My personal favourite moment in the show is Matt Hancock fronting an advert for an app – Chancer (or more likely Chancr, being an app) – with the slogan ‘turn your contacts into contracts’, as pals of Tory MPs tell how they made millions by supplying medical equipment - no experience required.
There’s a slightly awkward skip to early 2021 (omitting the cancelled Christmas of 2020), when Boris’ relationship with Dom goes sour. For me, this is when the musical got particularly interesting in its political commentary – and a bit harder to laugh at as a result. Blowfish pose the question – if Boris is such a bumbling twit, why does he always win? Boris sheds the clown image, Dom gets his marching orders, and we know The Johnson Supremacy has been achieved. We are treated to the Big Boris Anthem Moment – there’s a Union Jack involved, a lot of smoke machine action, and a sense of his triumph. For now, at least: we are promised more in Boris the Musical 4…