Big Society: The Musical
It’s actually rather heartening, in the current climate, to watch a London-based company not only tackling the ConDem government’s agenda of cuts head-on, but also managing to set an entire musical in a working class district of Newcastle without resorting to patronising ‘comic’ stereotypes.
Set in a not-too-distant future in which the UK’s public sector infrastructure has been completely dismantled and society exists in firmly regulated strata reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, Big Society is at once a skewed, unflinching satire on the class system and a playful riff around Cole Porter’s poor-little-rich-girl romp High Society. Put-upon potential revolutionary Tracy Lords (a reinterpreted Grace Kelly role obviously written for Lily Allen) must choose between two potential suitors: a disgruntled former nursery nurse and a Young Conservative.
Socialist realism is a potentially problematic style to set to music: the company negotiate this by switching between pared-back Recession jazz reminiscent of The Threepenny Opera or Bob Fosse at his best, and full-throated volkopera ala Les Mis.
That said, the true soul of the piece is a solo number delivered by a blind, elderly man who’d just lost his home help, belted out with all the gusto of a latter-day Meatloaf. Having the action commented on by a Greek chorus of singing City banker was also an inspired idea, and the audience certainly took vicarious delight in their eventual and pleasingly gory fate.
In fact, it’s only the much-trailered third act appearance of uber-villain David Cameron, as a snake-hipped Bowie-esque charmer bafflingly depicted astride a llama, which falls slightly flat, tipping proceedings just that little bit too far into the realms of the unbelievable.