The alluring tag line of ‘see it before we get sued’ is enough to get anyone intrigued by this play, even with only the vaguest interest in politics. That, and the fact that the posters have got a certain middle-aged, lads-on-tour look, which is not normally associated with biting political satire. And indeed, as When Blair Had Bush And Bunga attempts to re-imagine how Tony Blair went to war in Iraq, it fails in the satire and delivers mainly slapstick.
The action is set on Cliff Richard’s island get-away in Barbados, and features a bizarre array of real-life characters such as Alistair Campbell, Carole Caplin (Cherie Blair’s new-age political liability of a friend), and even an off-stage performance from the Pope. But the main stars are of course the seemingly unlikely and increasingly silly trio of Blair, Bush and Berlusconi, discussing how to go to war in “I-raq”. Blair, the wannabe world leader still mourning his lost chance to be a rockstar, is eager to please the barely literature George Dubya.
The casting of Christopher Staines as “Tone” is a highlight of the play; he succeeds in capturing Blair’s mannerisms, exuding bumbling school-boy arrogance whilst simpering away at Bush. His personality cheerfully grates on you to the point where you feel bad for an exasperated Cherie, who accuses him of “talking about yourself to yourself”.
Of course once Bush is on stage it’s a pretty endless stream of malapropisms, as he talks about “impunity pools” and building the “special relegation” between America and the UK. But after the sight of a leopard-print thong-clad Berlusconi chasing cleaners around the stage several times, and yet another Bushism delivered, the easy jokes did wear a bit thin. It’s also worth bearing in mind that a lot of the gags might not be appreciated by anyone under 25 unless they do some major Wikipedia-ing afterwards.
When Blair Had Bush And Bunga does try to critique the main characters: at one point they’re told they are “all criminals”. But the heavy-handed caricatures were ultimately not very interesting, and the menagerie of actors on the stage by the end didn’t help. This was a generally enjoyable farce that would benefit from being shortened, but nonetheless did succeed in getting laughs.