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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Nick Curtis

Pandemonium at Soho Theatre review: does this weak show prove that Johnson, Sunak and co have killed satire?

If this lame comedy about the government’s mishandling of the pandemic is anything to go by, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak might actually have killed off satire.

It’s designed as an antic romp in mock-Shakespearean style, performed around a small platform with modern props augmenting Elizabethan garb and sweary abuse juxtaposed with highfalutin imagery. But very few blows land and the elegantly profane language can’t disguise undergraduate-level humour and an incoherent mess of a script.

Astonishingly, it’s by Armando Iannucci, a reliably lethal scourge of politics and hubris in The Thick of It and Veep. Patrick Marber, his colleague from The Day Today and himself usually a beady observer of absurdity, acts as director.

Even the sublimely shifty Paul Chahidi elicits few laughs as Boris, or Orbis Dei (“world god”, or near enough) as he is known here, leading a quintet of accomplished actors. Opening in the week when two PMs claimed to have lost their WhatsApp messages and Michelle Mone made a “documentary” defending her PPE deals, this show somehow misses endless open goals.

Where shall we start? Perhaps with the names. Michael Gove is Michael Go, because everyone wants him to go. Dominic Raab is Dominant Wrath, Nadine Dorries is Noddin’ Doggies. Oh my sides.

When the pandemic first wafts across the shores of Albion, Orbis is distracted by the book he’s writing and the sexual demands of mistress Carrie Mybaby. Ha, bloody ha. Hospitalised with Covid, he is shown the dire fate he’s led the nation to by a blind, spectral Dominic Coming-for-You, who’s presented as a morally instructive spirit. Sorry, what?

'Michael Gove is Michael Go, because everyone wants him to go. Dominic Raab is Dominant Wrath, Nadine Dorries is Noddin’ Doggies. Oh my sides.'

Nick Curtis

There’s some contorted nonsense about a fantasy of divine birth that enshrined Orbis’s ironclad entitlement and his belief that “what I feel is more solid than law”. At the ending – it’s really not a spoiler – a horde of prominent Tories is dragged to hell, morality-play style. None of it really makes sense, though there are a few bright moments along the way.

Natasha Jayetileke is very funny as both tap-dancing, short-trousered opportunist Richer Soonest and implacable Suella Bovverboy. And Amalia Vitale creates two sublime comic creations out of Matt Hemlock, a creature of slime desperately counterfeiting human form and function, and Less Trust, who melts like the Wicked Witch of the West when asked if any of her inane prattlings are costed.

But this is thin gruel in what should have been rich pickings for Iannucci and his team. Roll on the General Election: perhaps then our politics and our satire will be refreshed.

Soho Theatre; to January 13;

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