There felt like a huge urgency to see ‘Corbyn the Musical: The Motorcycle Diaries’ when I booked in January. I wasn’t entirely sure Jeremy Corbyn, who doesn’t want to see this, would even still be leader by the time this opened at Waterloo East Theatre in April and after seeing it I am wishing Corbyn had been destroyed in a coup so I might have been saved from this kitsch work
The issue isn’t that ‘Corbyn…’ is bad but people have paid for either a really good time or a full on car crash. This is neither; some elements are very good such as musical numbers and some elements are very bad like the structure.
It doesn’t help that the play is set in a Dystopian future where Jeremy Corbyn (Martin Neely) is PM, Boris Johnson (David Muscat) is opposition (which is never clearly explained, at first I thought he had crossed the floor) and Vladimir Putin (Muscat, again) is out to bomb the homosexual loving UK, in a desperate attempt to hide his own love of men. There is also the Motorcycle Diaries element; Diane Abbott (Natasha Lewis) and Corbyn’s now infamous 1970s trip to East Berlin, which feels like a last minute addition to a story that needed some padding, with strong support from James Dismore as a Doctor Strangelove/Bond Villain Tony Blair
The whole production feels slow (a friend cried out “PLEASE END” as it continued to drag out) and already a little dated, with references to Mark Clarke, the Tory who was accused of bullying then suspended and its main strength are Jennifer Green’s compositions for songs such as Putin’s love song to Laika the Space Dog, which felt like it belonged in a good Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice production about the USSR and Corbyn’s loving tribute to Islington (though oddly to the part where he isn’t an MP), even the sound quality meant these weren’t as enjoyable as they could have been, despite containing some strong talents like David Muscat as Putin (thought his full head of hair and outfit in a video sequence made me think he was Kim Jong-il) and Johnson and Natasha Lewis as an excellent Diane Abbott.
The whole dramatic element feels under researched at times and seems unsure of its audiences, an audience that if they take any interest in this musical will have a strong interest in politics and current affairs. I feel like writers of the book and lyrics Bobby Friedman and Rupert Myers were expecting a more generic crowd, who might listen to ‘Today’ occasionally. I know for a fact that the audience I was in contained two (failed, Labour) Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, not the sort of people you want to present pretty sloppy political satire to.
Sadly, this musical just isn’t strong enough to be the memorable night out it wants to be. I’ve seen comparisons to Edinburgh Fringe shows; it does feel very much what some ex-Footlights would put on once they graduated from Cambridge; very aware but not very thought through.
Still I look forward to the inevitable Trump: The Musical that will grace the London stage soon enough…
Corbyn the Musical is sold out at Waterloo East Theatre until 30 April but returns may be available on the day.