Brexit The Musical by David Shirreff and Russell Sarre, & NewsRevue, Canal Café Theatre, 17 November 2016

Mauritian Giant Tortoise ...like...so old!
Mauritian Giant Tortoise …like…so old!

I first met David Shirreff many years ago when we worked together on a couple of “financial Armageddon” simulations. I have long wanted to see one of his plays/musicals, but have somehow been confounded by the timing and/or location of the performances.

So when I saw that David was putting Brexit The Musical on at my beloved, local Canal Café Theatre and that one of the show dates was a free Thursday in my diary, I had no hesitation in booking a seat. While I was at it, I also booked to see NewsRevue; might as well while I am there.

The previous week, while playing a real tennis skills tournament teamed with friend Tony Friend – click here to see my piece on that victorious evening – the subject of the Canal Café Theatre and NewsRevue came up, not least because Chris Stanton (formerly of that “parish” and coincidentally an avid realist at Lord’s, as I reported a few months ago – click here) was also playing in the tournament.

“I’m going to the Canal Café Theatre next week, as it happens”, said Tony, “a friend of mine has written a musical…” The coincidence grew when we realised that not only did we both know David Shirreff but we had both booked the same Thursday night to see Brexit The Musical.

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I ate early and walked to the Canal Café Theatre, as I had so often done back in the 1990s, when we used to meet up for writers’ meetings on a Thursday night before watching the show.

Tony and son John were already there when I got to the theatre.

Tony and I swapped “real tennis war stories” from our famous victory in the skills contest the week before and from our match against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club (MURTC) the night before, in which Tony and I had both been part of losing pairs, but pairs who had lost more heroically than MURTC’s losing pairs, hence contributing towards a great MCC match victory; 2.5-2.5 in rubbers, decided in MCC’s favour on net games. Oh boy, John must have been fascinated and impressed.

I was also able to swap my ticket so I could sit with Tony and John during the show.

We had a chat with David Shirreff before and after the performance. It is a good show. Low hanging fruit for humour, of course, Brexit, not least Boris Johnson and Michael Gove as comedic characters. There were some superbly acerbic lines throughout the show.

The dramatic highlight for me was a parody of the three witches from Macbeth (Theresa, Andrea and Amber, presumably) confounding Boris and Gove with their power riddles. The musical highlight for me was the Putin Rap.

Between shows while I was chatting with David and some of his friends, Nick R Thomas (one of our NewsRevue writing gang from the 1990s) turned up, which was a really pleasant surprise. Nick had seen my e-shout-out that I was going that night, happened to be in London that day and thought, “why not?  I haven’t seen the show for 15 years or so…”

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Since 1979…like…so old!

In case anyone reading this is unaware, NewsRevue has been going since 1979. Around about the time the show first went to Edinburgh, in August 1979, I was in Mauritus looking at prehistoric-looking giant tortoises and stuff (see above picture…no, not the ones with politicians’ faces, the other picture). I wrote for the show extensively for most of the 1990s, starting in 1992.

In 2004, NewsRevue was awarded a Guinness World Record for the longest running live comedy show. It has been described as The Mousetrap of live comedy. You can read more about it by clicking here.

Nick blagged his way onto my table, where we were joined by a very perky and friendly young couple who had never seen the show before. “Have you seen the show before?” they asked us. “Hundreds of times”, we replied, explaining our connection with the show.

Realising how young they were, I suggested that, scarily, Nick and I might have been writing for the show before they were born. The young man politely replied that he was a toddler back then, while the young woman remained silent, confirming my fears. I think the young couple probably saw me and Nick as curious antique creatures, a little like…me looking at centuries-old Mauritian giant tortoises all those years before.

We really enjoyed the show. The Trump opening number was an “orthodox” medley of Queen songs, well put together. A “Corbyn Man” number to the Willy Wonka “Candy Man” song was good, as was a version of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen; Len singing his regret that no-one listens to his recording of the song.

There were some excellent quickies and short sketches. I especially liked the customer complaining about their Galaxy Note 7 catching fire, with the gormless shop assistant misconstruing each danger/complaint adjective as slang praise for a wonderful device.

Ed Balls singing and dancing a “Gangnam Style” parody was excellent, as was a superb rap, the origins of which were beyond me, but the lyrics and delivery were superb. But despite those two numbers, most of the songs used as the basis of the show seem to be stuck in the choices we used to make in our era; musical numbers and pop songs from the 1960s to 1980s.

Sadly, the closing number broke the second law of NewsRevue songs, which is Do not use “I Will Survive”.  (The first law being Do not use “YMCA”.)  Still, given the way the world is right now, the use of I Will Survive might be forgiven. Indeed, come to think of it, what with Brexit and Trump, those financial Armageddon simulations David Shirreff and I did years ago might come in handy. But I digress.

I was most taken by the response of the NewsRevue audience, not least the young couple at our table. In fact the whole audience (mostly younger folk) seemed thoroughly thrilled by their evening. It was heartening to see that the formula still works after all these years and can all-but fill the Canal Café Theatre on a cold, wet but thoroughly enjoyable Thursday evening.

Unexpected Victory Against The Odds, Mercifully Only A Real Tennis Skills Tournament At Lord’s, 8 November 2016

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Victorious team: David, Tony Friend and Me

I didn’t have high hopes for the real tennis skills tournament at Lord’s. As the rookiest, lowest ranked player in the tournament, my hopes and expectations before the day were based around the avoidance of embarrassment rather than realistic hopes of outright victory.

I have written about real tennis and my “baby steps at the game before – not least in this article – click here.  

The skills required for this skills challenge tournament are stuff that I do very rarely in the heat of battle: hitting the fiendish “winning targets”, setting unfeasibly good chases and getting serves into the right area – the latter determined by a small “Its A Knockout”-style gayly-coloured plastic padding pool – not very Lord’s, that last prop.

To add to the slightly unnerving nature of the event, I discovered that I had been teamed with friend Tony Friend, who probably also expected little once he knew he’d been teamed with me. I e-mailed him a few weeks ago, getting my excuses in early:

I haven’t done skills night before and am not entirely sure what to expect.  Rest assured, at my current level of experience, I am not expecting to find any of the exercises even faintly easy.  But I shall certainly try my best.

He responded with a list of the challenges. I replied:

Excellent, excellent.  I normally do at least one of those things once during my hour…perhaps that wasn’t what you wanted to read.

The coaches at Lord’s tried to reassure me – “sometimes the novice players on the team do as well or better than the experienced players.”  I suspected that they were being kind and/or trying to prevent a drop out.

To add to my sense of foreboding, the third man in our team, David, announced that he hadn’t played for about a year, which I thought probably put the kibosh on any residual hopes I had of being carried by two really good players.

But my negative thoughts were wrong on all of those counts.

Truth is, the skills challenge is wicked hard for all concerned. Not least because many of the skills tested do not often come into the game naturally, so all players, experts and rookies alike, are having to adapt and adjust to the challenges.

One thing our team did right was to agree a rota and relentlessly move around quickly during each challenge to maximise the number of shots we got in each two-minute time-trial round. That practice alone must have upped our chances.

The other thing that went well for us was complementary skills; at least one of us did OK or well on each of the seven challenges. On two of the challenges – lay an excellent chase and force the dedans, all three of us got into a rhythm for a minute or so and clocked up a lot of points in a hurry. I didn’t score as many points as the other two, but I don’t think I scored that far shy of them and certainly pulled my weight as the team rookie.

In short, against the odds, we won by a short head. (Aptronymically, our team had been named “Three-Thirty at Haydock Park”).

But far more than the sweet taste of unexpected success, as usual with real tennis at Lord’s, the whole evening, in particular the company was excellent; a really friendly, pleasant crowd. Naturally, the food and beverage was excellent too – it was at Lord’s after all – a curry night, done very well.

Writing as the presidential polls close in the USA, I’m hoping against hope that our real tennis tournament result is the only major against the odds surprise of the night.

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Did I mention that David, Tony Friend and I were the winning team? I probably should mention that somewhere, just for the sake of completeness.