B’Stard and Blair Make a Gloriously Filthy Double Act
by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog
The Telegraph, 18th december 2006
Charles Spencer reviews The New Statesman at the Trafalgar Studios
The producers of The New Statesman declined to invite the press to this television spin-off starring Rik Mayall as that most devious and randy of politicians, Alan B’Stard.
When you consider the appalling junk to which producers do invite critics, the failure to hold a press night seemed to herald a disaster of epic proportions, which made an ambulance-chaser like me all the more eager to attend.
So I stumped up £45 for a ticket, plus the iniquitous £2.50 booking charge, and another £3 for a useless programme and £1.70 for a cup of vile coffee in the interval. God, the West End knows how to fleece its hapless punters.
But here’s the funny thing. Despite my anticipating stale buns, The New Statesman actually turns out to be a rumbustiously enjoyable and downright filthy comedy of considerable panache.
It precisely captures the corrosive cynicism that attends the fag end of Tony Blair’s period as Prime Minister, when so little has been achieved, so much has gone wrong, and New Labour has proved every bit as sleaze-infested as the old Tories.
The show also proves much funnier than Alistair Beaton’s ponderous political stage satires, while entirely lacking the unattractive sanctimony that now mars the work of Bremner, Bird and Fortune on TV.
Truly, Alan B’Stard, played with lecherous charisma and lip-smacking relish by Mayall, has proved a comic villain for all seasons. The prolific TV writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran originally created him in the 1980s as a representative of all that was worst about the greed-is-good years of Margaret Thatcher.
But as New Labour slowly collapses into the mire, his time has come again.
B’Stard is now a member of Blair’s Cabinet, plotting his own enrichment and sexual gratification in No 9, Downing Street.
The labyrinthine narrative shows Blair having himself kidnapped in a desperate attempt to make himself popular again, Condoleezza Rice calling all the political shots, and B’Stard doing exceptionally dangerous deals with Islamic fundamentalists.
If memory serves, this is the first show I’ve seen with the balls to take the mickey out of murderous Muslims. Then there is the strange case of Gordon Brown, discovered chained to a hotel bed covered in Marmite, Class A drugs and plundered currency. If only it were true!
Mayall is clearly having a ball with Marks and Gran’s sparky, topical script. He plays B’Stard like a priapic Richard III in a pinstripe suit, constantly taking the audience into his slimy confidence.
The scene in which he prepares to use a charred and severed head as a sex toy is one of the most spectacular examples of gross-out humour I’ve ever seen on stage, and the way Mayall plays on the audience’s vocal revulsion is a masterclass in comic panache.
There’s strong support from Helen Baker, mercilessly skewering a po-faced Blair babe, and Lysette Anthony as B’Stard’s preposterously glamorous and equally devious wife.
This is certainly not a show for either the prudish or the few remaining members of Tony Blair’s fan club. Almost everyone else will have a blast.