Big Society review at Leeds City Varieties

Written from the viewpoint of an often ignored working class majority and staged against the backdrop of a variety show, the historic and recently renovated City Varieties could not have played a better host for the politically charged Big Society. This variety performance, set in 1910, heralds back to a day in which the country was ruled by aristocracy and makes parallels between then and the present day, in light of recent government cuts and the increasing gulf between the rich and poor. The fourth wall is demolished as the audience sit in on and participates with a 1910 music hall, following the lives of its lower class actors and the troubles that they face in Edwardian Britain.

The satire is not as cutting or provoking as I had hoped, often heavy handed and trite, the political subplot of the performance is somewhat diluted by its flagrancy. There were some better moments of political satire however, my favourite being the Cameron and Clegg ventriloquist and dummy act (‘little wooden bastard’). Though Big Society is undoubtedly at its funniest and most enjoyable when it forgets about supposed parallels between Edwardian society and today.

Take the scripting with a pinch of salt and submerge yourself in the traditions of variety performance and Big Society does work well as a whole. Phill Jupitus does an excellent job of inputting charm and comic timing into his character, balanced nicely with the lively performance from Lisa Howard as a Geordie suffragette escapologist. Lisa Howard gave the best performance and was the strongest character for me. Her political and feminist conscience is apparent throughout, which is then contradicted at the end as we realise she is the King’s Mistress. This added a light absurdity to the entire play which, unsurprisingly, I quite liked.

The music, from Chumbawumba, meshed nicely with the entire feel of the performance and through (near coerced) audience participation I found myself swaying and singing along, reluctantly at first, enthusiastically not long afterwards. Similarly to many other productions, the second half is stronger and more engaging than the first (could that have been the wine at the interval?) where the plot takes a surrealist turn to include a parallel universe, philosophical French monkey and a magic wardrobe which, unsurprisingly, I also quite liked.

Don’t go to see the Big Society expecting sabre tooth satire, however if you looking for an evening of light hearted entertainment, with a great cast in an ideal setting, then Big Society is the perfect antidote for January blues.

Big Society is showing at Leeds City Varieties until 4th Feb.

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