Theatre Review: Pandemonium, Soho Theatre

Theatre Review: Pandemonium, Soho Theatre

Anyone seeing Armando Iannucci credited as the writer of Pandemonium might expect a satire with the brutality of The Thick of It or the classy bite of Veep. Think again. This new play, directed by another seriously big stage name, Patrick Marber, feels at times more like a panto about the pandemic than a state of the nation swipe. The laughs are certainly there but they are pretty bloody broad.

Paul Chahidi, best known as the mild mannered vicar in BBC's This Country, shows his range and dons the mandatory blond scruffy wig to play Boris – Orbis Rex – Johnson, as we follow him through the last seven years, from dithering about whether to support leave or remain to fizzling out after the Partygate fallout.

The comedy is structured like Shakespeare meets Jacobean comedy. Starting with a bit of verse here, but as one of the early chuckle-prompting lines says, soon dispensed with so that they don't have to find rhymes all the, erm, times.

It's a brisk production about a story that we all know. Most of the jokes have already been told so Iannucci doesn't seem to try for anything too sophisticated. Instead he goes straight for the comic jugular with simple gags, such as characters' names that would have been rejected by Viz – Riches Sooner, Less Trust, Matt Hemlock, Suella Bovverboy. Best if you like childish wordplay, is Michael Gove rechristianed as Michael Go - because people keep asking him to go and he doesn't.

We know how this starts and we know how this ends so it's all in the execution. Johnson is a mock heroic power-hungry clown, Liz Truss is an absolute melt - quite literally when she is asked whether her budget plans have been costed and she quickly congeals into a puddle. Matt Hancock/Hemlock doesn't even start as a human, he's more half-man half slimeball as his rise and fall is quickly charted. 

There are serious moments here to acknowledge Covid's toll on the nation but this is essentially a straightforward ensemble comedy. The rest of the characters are played by Amalia Vitale, Debra Gillett, Faye Castelow and Natasha Jayetileke - the latter stands out as Riches Sooner, complete with trousers that don't come anywhere near his shoes and later returns as Suella Bovverboy, complete with uniform and a chest of medals like those last seen on one of the characters in The Death of Stalin. 

I would imagine Iannucci is smart enough to realise that anything subtle has been done by now so he might as well go for something direct. I can't imagine this is going to be a set text when academics take stock of the way the arts viewed the Johnson years in a hundred year's time, but the audience certainly enjoyed it on the night I was in. If you want your panto with a Hogarthian/Swiftian topical tinge this might just be the Christmas treat you didn't know you needed.

Until January 13.  Tickets and info here.

Picture credit: Marc Brenner




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