Big Society! A Music Hall Comedy is the third in a series of musicals written and composed by Whalley for Red Ladder Theater Company – though the first that band members Jude Abbott, Phill Moody, Neil Ferguson and Whalley have also performed in. It follows Riot, Rebellion and Bloody Insurrection in 2009 and Sex & Docks & Rock ‘n’ Roll, which toured the UK last year.
A Red Ladder spokesperson told Whatsonstage.com that, though not thematically linked, all three musicals share Whalley’s aim of providing “a really good night out of entertainment with a strong political message”.
Chumbawumba band members, with Boff Whalley second from right
Big Society! follows the exploits, eccentricities and expletive-related-troubles of an Edwardian Music Hall variety show cast. The musical – featuring 12 brand new songs by Whalley – is set in Leeds in 1912 among the hustle and bustle of a backstage dressing room. Under threat of closure from the man from the Ministry of Taste, the cast begin to question their loyalties and wonder if they’re really ‘all in this together’.
Phill Jupitus, who stars as George Lightfeather, is well known to TV audiences as the longest-serving member of the Never Mind the Buzzcocks team and a regular panellist on QI. His stage credits include Lifecoach and Hairspray (in the cross-dressing role of Edna Everage) in the West End and, most recently, King Arthur in the tour of Monty Python’s Spamalot. Jupitus launched the BBC’s digital radio channel 6Music in 2002, was the host of 6Music's breakfast show until 2007 and also regularly appears On I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.
In the musical, Chumbawumba appear as the Big Society Band. The cast also includes Kyla Goodey, Harry Hamer, Lisa Howard and Dean Nolan. The production is directed by Rod Dixon and designed by Ali Allen, with lighting by Tim Skelly.