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14 April 2016updated 27 Jul 2021 11:31am

We went to see the musical about Jeremy Corbyn so you don’t have to

Deputy web editor Anoosh Chakelian and special correspondent Stephen Bush give us their verdict on Corbyn the Musical: The Motorcycle Diaries.

By Anoosh Chakelian

AC: Corbyn the Musical began as a joke, and has hopefully become a whole series of jokes,” explains the programme of a new musical about the Labour leader penned by politicos Bobby Friedman and Rupert Myers.

Remind you of anything?

But, sadly, this show – based on one of the weirdest, most easily mock-able, political twists of our age – doesn’t quite manage to do justice to a truth about modern British politics that is far stranger than fiction: Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Zigzagging between an imagined future – where Corbyn as Prime Minister must avoid nuclear war – and a past involving Corbyn and his then lover Diane Abbott riding around East Germany on a motorbike, the fun lies in how close-to-home this parallel political universe is.

Westminster and political media insiders will chuckle at references to the BBC being Serco-run, Caroline Criado-Perez lamenting the phallic shape of Trident subs, and a social media #pissforpeace campaign (key participant: the Guardian’s Dawn Foster). But it does at times feel like a Twitter joke concocted for a very small circle of people that has somehow extended beyond 140 characters.

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All photos: Rupert Myers

The songs are jolly enough, the rhymes snappy and the jokes well-timed. An anthem in celebration of Islington is a highlight (rhyming “migrants off the boat” with “the Alternative Vote”), and I feel like the writers and musician Jen Green accidentally stumbled upon some genius black comedy with Vladimir Putin’s lament for the lost Soviet space dog Laika. And Martin Neely’s impersonation of Corbyn was excellent.

But there were lots of scenes I could’ve done without – Diane Abbott’s gratuitously sexualised ode to nationalisation (she is constantly portrayed as being obsessed with sex), the mincing MoD officials chirruping about Trident, and a dreadful solo by a bearded, be-scarved terrorist (all about virgins in heaven, and hating Jews. Seriously.)

Ultimately, this musical doesn’t quite manage to reach beyond the ordinary: the jokes in its songs are at best predictable, and at worst, rather lazy. I felt that the audience members were laughing along to the political references simply to show that they’d got the joke. Tony Blair is a mad megalomaniac war criminal! Jeremy Corbyn only cares about communism and his allotment! Boris Johnson is a sex pest! Repressed homosexuality is hilarious! Diane Abbott is thick and a hypocrite! (Depressingly, this was an audience favourite).

Now over to Stephen for more on the portrayal of Abbott, and what he thought of the show…

SB: Who was it who said they hated the people who laughed at the jokes in Tom Stoppard plays? Well, I had a similar relationship with the audience at Corbyn the Musical. Their laughter was not my laughter. In fact, there was one particularly equine laugh that I would have paid good money to smother. 

It wasn’t bad as such: well, it was no worse than anything David Hare has written since the Iraq war. But it was, as Anoosh says, very much a riff off the sort of jokes about the things in politics that everyone knows: Tony Blair is a war criminal, Boris Johnson harrumphs a lot, and Diane Abbott is stupid. It’s strange, because I can’t immediately think of anything about Abbott which suggests she’s mad for se – oh. 

The problem – and I’m aware that at this point I’m revealing that I am one of those awful people who would have sung the Islington song without irony – is that the things that everyone knows is that at least some of the things that everyone knows are simply some of our nastier prejudices given the positive sheen of groupthink.

The bit where the career civil servant blamed the failures of Corbyn on politicians who worked as spads before taking office, and then sung about politicians who, uh, haven’t (Corbyn, Abbott, Nigel Farage, John Prescott and Norman Lamb) summed it up. It was caught in a sort of uncanny valley where I felt it was too knowing for a layman and not knowing enough for your full-bore obsessive.

Highlights: David Muscat was excellent as both Vladmir Putin and Boris Johnson. The song about Laika was fantastic. Otherwise, it lacked an ensemble song and would have been better for another redraft. 

AC: And what’s wrong with Norman Lamb, anyway?

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