Bobby Friedman is co-writer, with Rupert Myers, of Corbyn the Musical (Waterloo East Theatre, April 12-24).
Writing a comedy play involves various challenges – but when you’re tasked with scripting Corbyn the Musical, as I have been for the last few months, the particular trials and tribulations are not the ones that you’d usually expect to encounter.
As a comedy writer, it’s great fun to use satire as a way of poking fun at those in power. But there’s an additional layer of complexity when the butt of the jokes is constantly churning out ideas and PR disasters that are so ridiculous, so far left-field, that it’s almost as if Seumas Milne is behind them.
That’s the thing about Corbyn, who is already a living and walking – well, cycling – caricature. There is nobody else who could be so deeply sincere whilst wearing a tracksuit; never has there been someone as ripe for a send-up.
Let’s give Corbyn some credit. Every leader wants to improve on his predecessor, and Corbyn has done that, even if the task seemed like a difficult one. Because when it came to the comedy stakes, Ed Miliband was perhaps the most effective politician in this country. This was a man who fell off stages and designed his own political gravestone. But you should never underestimate the power of the hard-left in effecting a political takeover – and never has this been more obvious in Corbyn’s stealing Miliband’s crown, after the latter awkwardly dropped it on the floor.
What can be too ridiculous for a man who can casually drop the bombshell that he has decided not give his pet a name because, “Cats don’t know their name, cats know voices”? Or who has proposed that we maintain a nuclear deterrent that will, as far as I can tell, involve spending billions of pounds on submarines that send out streamers and a big flag with the word “bang” on it when you press the red button? And that was just last weekend. Corbyn the Musical promises to be a fantastic and absurd night of comedy, but between now and April, there’s no knowing what Jeremy will do to keep us on our toes.
In many ways this is liberating. The best comedy is grounded in reality. In a satire, you want to show an exaggerated version of the character, but you don’t want to descend into fantasy, or you risk not lampooning that person at all. As writers, there are some things that are the equivalent of a 90 per cent wealth tax for Corbyn and his supporters: you’d love to include them, but you just don’t think you can get away with it.
With Corbyn, that just isn’t an issue. With every passing day, the list of things we can get away with gets longer. Of course, there are some plot lines that would still seem too far-fetched for inclusion. If we showed a Corbyn reshuffle being completed in the course of an evening, that would, quite clearly, be preposterous. But almost anything else seems possible when Corbyn takes the lead.
However, I do also have a bit of a plea to the Labour leader: Jez, [strong message here] please, give me a break. This is a topical musical, and I have to re-write it to keep it fresh. Imagine the feeling every Sunday morning, as I sit there in my pyjamas watching the Andrew Marr show, and realise that there’s a whole new wave of comedy gold demanding to be written in. Jez, if you’ve looked at the opinion polls, I imagine you can empathise with that sinking feeling. We all have lives to lead: allotments to tend, cats to sing at, meetings with Hamas to go to. Please, let me have some precious time back.
Corbyn the Musical is, of course, about far more than the man itself – and there are plenty of other characters in it, Boris being one of them – but you’ll have to come along to see them for yourselves. The plot twists and turns quicker than one of the eponymous hero’s reshuffles- although you’ll be glad to hear that the run time is much shorter. The story revolves around the Labour leader facing a nuclear stand-off with Vladimir Putin’s Russia – I won’t spoil the surprise, but his apparent motorcycle trip to Soviet East Germany with his then-lover Diane Abbott in the 1970s plays a fairly key role.
It may not be a gentler, kinder satire, but Corbyn the Musical promises to be even more comic than the man himself. It’s a show for people of all political persuasions, from Conservatives through to those who think John McDonnell is a Red Tory – and most importantly of all, it aims to make everyone laugh out loud – yes, even Jeremy Corbyn himself.