[Image description: four and a half stars.]
Venue: Theatr Clwyd
For many when we think of musical theatre it still invokes images of light entertainment and an easy watch but with this new musical The Assassination of Katie Hopkins by Chris Bush and Matt Winkworth those stereotypes get completely turned on their head. Don’t leave your thinking cap at home because you’re going to need it. Bush and Winkworth have created a piece of musical theatre that is so modern in displaying the present day and the digital age in which we live that even during the show’s run it will reflect current events that have a strong influence from social media. Such as the Alfie Evans case, for example.
If you’ve followed my blogs or social media for a while you’ll perhaps know that I have a love/ hate relationship with social media and so this musical seemed right up my alley. As well as wanting to support new work, especially a show made by and having its world premiére in a local regional theatre. And of course, the show’s title and subsequent media attention piqued my interest even further.
Despite what images the show’s bold title might conjure (or lead to protest) the show isn’t about trash talking Hopkins or an out and out assassination of her character. Yes, the show starts with her fictional assassination but it uses this event to explore what happens when such a public figure, especially one that is infamous for their free speech (or hate speech, depending on your view) is assassinated and the role that the media and social media play in stirring up public outrage. It’s actually such a cleverly balanced piece that shows both sides of the arguments made, letting the audience think for themselves and form their own opinions. Or often having those opinions change several times during the course of the show.
As well as Hopkins’ fictional assassination the show also depicts the tragic death of twelve fruit pickers in a fire which happens on the same day as Katie’s death and how this case is somewhat overshadowed by the death of a public figure. Meaning the outcry for their right to justice often falls on death ears, if spoken about at all, even though it is no less of a tragedy. Whether it is more of a tragedy or deserves more attention/ justice and the reasons why again is in the hands or rather the minds of the audience.
The show also manages to encompass the #MeToo movement, again capturing the current social and political climate. And also explores race and racism in a way that they’re frequently questioned by the press and social media (and of course by Katie Hopkins) when tragedies occur and especially in Post-Brexit Britain. In short, this show is a reflection of life as we currently know it and gives audiences the chance to assess what kind of society that is creating and their personal role in it. Combining both tragedy and comedy to great effect. The Last Leg parody had me reeling with laughter.
Under the excellent direction of James Grieve the cast capture all this perfectly. It’s hard to believe at times that there are only 8 cast members because they are constantly changing characters and accents making it seem like there’s a much larger ensemble on stage. Which speaks volumes to this cast’s talent. And as for their vocal talent- wow! I loved how diverse this cast was too, further reflecting modern British society.
And as if I could talk about this show without mentioning the set, designed by Lucy Osborne and brought to life by Theatr Clwyd’s talented technical crew- wow, wow and wow! It’s a technological marvel, perfectly befitting ‘putting the internet on stage.’ Made up of two giant pixel walls and lots of LED lights that run the length of the Emlyn Williams theatre, where the pixels are constantly moving throughout the show. Each wall is also covered with 2340 fake phones (each one hand-made by a member of theatre staff) to create screens onto which various projections and live feeds are displayed in the form of texts, tweets, news feed and YouTube videos. The only problem I had was at times not knowing whether I should be looking at the live action or on the screen but I guess that in itself has some meaning.
This show, speaks volumes about the value of theatre and its ability to do more than simply entertain. And has reinforced my gratitude that I have such a forward-thinking, bold and world-class producing theatre in terms of the content of shows and backstage craft on my door-step.
Unfortunately, the show ends tomorrow (May 12th 2018) but here’s hoping it has a long and successful life ahead of it. I can see it staying relevant for quite some time to come. And I hope in the future many more people are singing Have you seen this? to their peers.