Archive for March, 2023

Photo: Nick Rutter

Writers: Ricky Simmonds and Simon Vaughan

Director: James Grieve


After Thatcher, Blair, Trump and others, former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi becomes the latest larger-than-life political figure to receive the dubious accolade of having a satirical musical devoted to him. The self proclaimed “Jesus Christ of politicians” proves to be a rich source for mockery.

Berlusconi’s vision of himself as a modern day Emperor Tiberius is endorsed by Lucy Osborne’s set design, which resembles a section of an ancient Roman amphitheatre. The “Friends, Romans and countrymen…” speech could have been delivered to the masses from steps such as these. Adversely, the set occasionally restricts movement in director James Grieve’s otherwise rousing production, ably performed by a company of ten and accompanied by a band of five.

The show is entirely sung through, with writers Ricky Simmonds and Simon Vaughan adopting a musical style that could possibly be influenced by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. As a whole, the songs are remarkably strong and several are near-showstoppers. The wit in the lyrics matches the catchiness of the tunes. However, the songs appear as a succession of stand alone numbers, thereby giving the show the feel of a series of revue sketches, rather than that of a flowing piece of storytelling.

Sebastien Torkia storms the stage as the title character, exuding all the charisma, ruthlessness and arrogance which led to his success and then his downfall. The narrative is framed by Berlusconi’s 2012 trial for tax fraud. He decides to devise an opera (he insists that it is not a musical) to tell his life story and use in his defence. 

Moulded by a strong mother (Susan Fay), the young Berlusconi sets sail as a cruise ship entertainer, before turning to property development and then becoming a media tycoon. He enters politics and eventually becomes Prime Minister of Italy, Throughout, he is mired in controversy and scandal, mostly surrounding his shady business dealings and his serial womanising. Emma Hatton gives a moving performance as Veronica, his long-suffering second wife.

As a satire, the show really takes off at the beginning of the second act. A night club dancing scene demonstrates the thin line between politics and show business and then Berlusconi joins a bare chested Vladimir Putin (Gavin Wilkinson) in a chilling, but hilarious duet which resembles a bizarre courting ritual. This is followed by an equally hilarious sequence in which Berlusconi strides the world stage with the heads of G7 leaders popping up from below him. It all leads to a finale in which, the chorus faces the audience and sings “Be Careful Who You Vote For”. The audience response could well be “Si”.

If Berlusconi… brings little in the way of enlightenment, it compensates in the form of entertainment, offering more than enough highlights to fill an evening. However, the show needs tightening up in many places. It goes on for far too long, in common perhaps with the political career of the man himself.

Performance date: 29 March 2023

Killing the Cat (Riverside Studios)

Posted: March 24, 2023 in Theatre

Photo: Danny Kaan

Book and lyrics: Warner Brown

Music: Joshua Schmidt

Director: Jenny Easton


The theory that opposites attract is put to the test rigorously in Killing the Cat, a new chamber musical that is receiving its world premiere at Riverside Studios prior to a planned Off-Broadway run. 

Madalena Alberto plays Maggie, an American scientist and author who has written a best seller which offers scientific explanations for all life’s mysteries. In order to escape from the widespread recognition that her newly found fame has brought, her friend Sheila (Kluana Saunders) invites her to join her on a holiday to Livorno. There she meets and falls for Luke (Tim Rogers), a man whose devout religious beliefs contradict everything that Maggie advocates.

This central relationship is mirrored by that of another holidaying couple, Heather (Molly Lynch), who is passionate about the romantic poets and all forms of art and the culturally sceptical Connor (Joaquin Pedro Valdes). Amid Italian sunshine and beauty, the scene is set for profound debates which set reason against religion, rationality against romance and cold logic against instinctive emotions.

Throughout a first act of flirtations and deceptions, it seems that the plot of a routine romcom could be hiding beneath the blanket of the show’s highbrow pretensions, struggling to come out. Lee Newby’s all white set design represents stone steps leading up to Roman arches and the three hard-working band members are also dressed all in white, as if it is camouflage. All this gives a sterile look to director Jenny Easton’s production, which always errs in the direction of taking itself too seriously.

The supremacy of discord over harmony in the narrative is reflected in Joshua Schmidt’s score, which is sung and played with great confidence. Generally, the music is easy on the ears, but stand-out moments of the type on which hit musicals thrive do not materialise.

It is brave and ambitious to attempt to incorporate philosophical arguments into the book and lyrics of a musical, but Warns Brown rises to the challenge admirably. It is deep into the second act before the quest to find the meaning of life becomes too weighty and we stop caring about the characters and their relationships. Eventually, there is a temptation to shout to everyone on stage: “lighten up a bit”.

Killing the Cat is a curiosity. At this stage, it feels like a work in progress and more time should help it to blend together its elements more smoothly. Eight more lives remain.

Performance date: 22 March 2023