Former Mayor of Greater London, current Foreign Secretary and serial gaffe maker Boris Johnson is a walking calamity of a man and a satirist’s dream. The challenge for a scriptwriter would be to whittle down the masses of material into a manageable chunk, and the team at Blowfish Theatre have done so in Boris – The Musical!
By combining kazoos with Brexit bartering, it sees an all singing, all dancing representation of the self-caricaturing court jester ‘BoJo’, alongside others playing lead politicians. Having earned the approval of Sheffield audiences on its 2016 debut, the musical is to tour further afield, with Manchester, Doncaster, Oxford and Edinburgh in its sights.
Its writer, Laurence Peacock, gave us the lowdown ahead the Manchester date at Dancehouse Theatre.
Can you tell us what it is about Boris Johnson that inspired you to write a musical about his life?
I think at first it was anger, to be honest. We’d just seen the referendum result – I was a ‘soft’ remain – and of all the scumbags gracing our national stage, it seemed like Boris was the most reprehensible. It was the way he’d clearly put personal ambition above principle. So I started writing ‘The Ballad of Boris Johnson’ and this swiftly – and in my head, quite logically – turned into a musical.
How did you conduct your research for the musical?
Whilst everything in the show is entirely accurate, I wasn’t that fussed about documentary realism. I watched a couple of documentaries and read an autobiography or two. Having said that, we did take a much more rigorous approach to the truth than Boris ever did during the referendum campaign.
Writing the songs for the musical, did you tie in direct quotes from the politicians of interest or is it all your own words and interpretations?
Most of the songs are flights of fancy. ‘Me and My Johnson’, for example, took a bit of guess work. While ‘BeLeave’, our gospel number, is a sort of Spinal Tap Michael Gove – Brexit with all the nobs turned up to 11. But there are direct quotes included in the actual scenes.
Do you think Boris Johnson would be offended by the musical if he were to see it?
You’re always welcome, Boris! But, no, I don’t think so. About 90% of what’s in there is stuff he’s already confessed to on camera. We haven’t set out to offend anyone. But we do take a harsh – but fair, I think – line on Boris’s political opportunism. And we’ve suggested a 14+ age recommendation for audience members, as there is a bit of swearing and some moderate innuendo.
Have you got a particular target audience in mind for the play? For instance, will people’s thoughts on Brexit have an impact on the way they respond to the musical?
They definitely do. I would say that first and foremost, it’s a comedy. Anyone can come and enjoy an hour of gags, songs and a few nob jokes. But we do find that about halfway through, when we get to the referendum part of the story, there’s this great moment where the audience splits. Suddenly they’re confronted with the Church of Brexit and let’s just say there are different levels of irony at work as we turn the audience into a congregation. But it’s been great to feel those different reactions every night. It gives a great energy to the show, a bit of edge.
How has the show developed since its first run?
Quite a bit. We’ve had a lot of fun keeping it up to date and working in current references. [European Chief Negotiator for Brexit] Michel Barnier gets a mention now, for example, whereas six months ago, I didn’t know who he was. Our composer Hollie also added a bunch of harmonies, which means it sounds awesome. And the band earn their money.
In one word, how would you describe the play?
Boris The Musical! is being performed at Dancehouse Theatre on Saturday 15 April, 2017, and returns to the city later in the year as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, with performances at Z-Arts from Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 July.