Lloyd Evans

Edinburgh round-up

Ukip! The Musical makes a hero of Farage, while Boris: World King will be lucky to make the West End with the talented David Benson still on board

Edinburgh round-up
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Ukip! The Musical

Surgeons’ Hall, until 29 August

Boris: World King

Pleasance, until 31 August

Secret Honour

Surgeons’ Hall, until 15 August

Propaganda is said to work best when based upon a grain of truth. Ukip! The Musical assumes that most electors are suspicious of the movement and its leaders. And in Edinburgh that may well be the case. The show portrays Nigel Farage as a bewildered twerp with no charisma and little talent for oratory. His first speech at an Essex shopping centre begins, ‘I am not a pretty nationalist, sorry, a petty nationalist.’ He then falls under the influence of a manipulative racist named Godfrey Bloom. I should point out that ‘Bloom’ in this piece refers to the character in the show, not to the retired politician. Bloom is first seen in a Westminster club, Gay Banana, dressed in a grass-skirt and singing the praises of Bongo-Bongo Land. ‘Sell your daughter/ But don’t drink the water’. Bloom advises Farage to wear a silly overcoat and to portray himself as a straight-talking fag-smoking geezer from down the pub. Farage duly becomes a folk hero and together they popularise the xenophobic anthem ‘Let’s Pull Up The Drawbridge’. The audience is invited to sing along with the chorus: ‘We need to take a stand/ For England’s green and pleasant land/ Now just fuck off to your own place/ We hope you understand/ Sieg Heil.’

Inspired by this slogan, Farage becomes prime minister whereupon Bloom mounts a palace coup and forces Ukip to enact the policies of the National Front. All immigrants are to be repatriated irrespective of how long they, or their forebears, have lived in Britain. Bloom argues that to pick and choose between immigrants would be discriminatory. Farage, with his French heritage, manages to avoid deportation, but his beloved wife Kirsten is sent back to Germany. He resigns in disgust and becomes a sympathetic hero who pines for his absent partner and consoles himself by reading sentimental Edwardian poetry. He tries to oppose the white supremacist policies of Bloom and, in a neat twist, is endorsed by the European Union. The musical ends up extolling Farage as a champion of liberalism and condemning Bloom as a closet Nazi. If that’s the intention of the writer, Cath Day, then the script is a roaring success.

Boris: World King is a larky sprint through the life and career of this magazine’s former editor. David Benson, playing a rather skinny Boris, wobbles in on a bicycle and promptly falls off while a booming voiceover introduces him as a hero, a demi-god, ‘an individual so silly no one could hate him’. Boris is an out-and-out shambles. So is the play. That’s deliberate. Our snowy-haired protagonist is supervised on stage by his director, Helen, a busty but tomb-faced beauty who wants everything to run smoothly but who is constantly thwarted by Boris’s habit of tripping over, smashing props, missing cues, chatting up women in the audience, playing ping-pong badly and taking calls from an Independent journalist who wants to review the show but can’t find the venue.

This rather overcomplicates a very simple premise. Instead of a comic biography with plenty of gags we get a semi-improvised circus routine that seeks to pay homage to Pirandello. David Benson ad-libs with great panache. At one point he made clumsy passes at a couple of women in the audience by asking them what professions they pursued. The first was a brain surgeon, the second a headhunter. ‘You two,’ he said instantly, ‘should get together.’ The show becomes too involved in its metatheatrical cleverness. A teenager was hauled out of the crowd and asked to take charge of proceedings while Boris and Helen vanished. The youngster did very well but he wasn’t the act we had come to see.

The script cools off towards the end and gets a little earnest. Helen turns into an indignant feminist who gives Boris a serious carpeting. ‘Women are just some sort of irrelevant sexy joke to you. You get them to work for you, to sleep with you, and then you get them to shut up.’ Germaine Greer might have applauded but she wasn’t there. I imagine the show has West End ambitions but I doubt if the excellent David Benson will stick with the production. He twice ad-libbed as follows: ‘I didn’t write any of this by the way.’ An odd disclaimer to make.

Secret Honour, about Richard Nixon, reminds us that a legend is an individual who becomes an art form. This intriguing portrait depicts Tricky Dicky as a seasoned hater. He loathes Jews, gays and East Coast snoots. He calls the founding fathers ‘a bunch of English snobs’. Henry Kissinger is cursed as a ‘whoremaster’ who was paid, it’s alleged, to procure rent boys for the Shah of Iran after his deposition. Revolting and fascinating.