NOTE: The following review dates from December 2003 and this production's original London run at Theatro Technis.
At a time when heightened security is leading to a frenzy of immeasurable paranoia and tension, playwright Justin Butcher has provided the tranquilliser to relax fears in the form of his sparkling new political satire A Weapon Inspector Calls, the sequel to the hit The Madness of George Dubya.
As Madness fashioned itself after Stanley Kubrick's film Dr Strangelove, this new piece finds inspiration in stage classic An Inspector Calls, with the form of JB Priestley's 1946 anti-war thriller applied to the modern situation in Iraq, making for an immaculate evening of entertainment.
Butcher flexes his political muscles with a finely crafted play, that combines crude humour and soft-shoe musical numbers, topped with inspiring thoughts on relations between Bush and Blair. In other words, Butcher has taken the sad state of current affairs, put it in a blender, added a heap of comedy, and then pushed the button for puree to create 'brilliance'.
Butcher's stage world is led by an angelic, baritone-belting Tony Blear, played with acute comic timing by Alasdair Craig, and a thumb-sucking George Dubya, portrayed by Andrew Harrison with pinpoint caricatured accuracy, a modern-day Ms Malaprop.
Harrison and Craig's individual triumphs are supported by an energetic and well-disciplined ensemble of players: James Pearce, as Pops Bush, delivers a Shakespearean-esque soliloquy that's as uproariously funny as it is compelling; Matthew Dominic takes to Vice-President Elect Arnie Schwartzenegger with gusto; and Rupert Mason turns in a spot-on showing as Donald 'Rummy' Rumsfeld.
Setting the comic value A Weapon Inspector Calls aside, Butcher really does hit the heart with some of the gut-wrenching facts he brings to the forefront - moments of 'awe' delivered with a straight-faced composure by Mark Heenehan as Weapons Inspector Dan Styx. The result is not only a more compelling dramatic world, but heated debate fodder for days, if not weeks, to come.
Admittedly, the singing isn't worthy of a busker's five pence, but it added to the sheer delight of an evening that includes several nods to musical theatre favourites of past and present.
More importantly, though, Butcher has constructed a powerful soapbox for espousing his savvy political views, and his words leave the theatre pulsing with energy. Political satire is alive and well in Islington.
- Christian Bell