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Last Updated: Friday, 3 August 2007, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Singing out the Blair years
By David Sillito
BBC News arts correspondent

Edinburgh is this summer alive to the sound of New Labour - as Tony Blair appears in two rival musicals.

Nathan Kiley plays Blair in Tony Blair the Musical (Photo by Dave Ayerst Davies)

"I'm surprised it's only two," says the writer of Tony Blair the Musical, James Lark.

"Tony Blair is such an expressive, glitzy person. In many cases I just set his words to music. He spoke in song lyrics."

Nearby is the rival Tony! The Blair Musical. "We've come to ridicule Blair not to vilify him," says its writer, Chris Bush.

And both agree that the songs, satire and high camp of a musical best capture the nature of the past ten years of British politics.

The companies say it has something to do with how New Labour conducted itself. The emphasis on image, the tumultuous personal relationships and the open emotion of the man at the centre of it all lends itself to the soul bearing nature of the West End ballad.

Relationship gone wrong

But while they poke fun at Tony Blair they are also quite affectionate.

The former prime minister is portrayed as essentially "a decent man who made some bad decisions", according to Chris Bush.

However, there are differing approaches.

In Tony Blair the Musical, it is at its heart a story of a relationship gone wrong. It is the story of Tony and Gordon.

Tony and Cherie (James Duckworth and Ellie Cox),
Ellie Cox and James Duckworth play Cherie and Tony in Tony! The Blair Musical
In Tony! The Blair Musical, it is more about Tony Blair's relationships with those around him.

Cherie Blair and Peter Mandelson compete for Tony's affections and the ghost of Princess Diana inspires him to pursue his ambition to be the "people's prime minister".

But there are similar themes and have both Tony Blair singing that this is not a time for soundbites.

In Tony Blair the Musical education, education, education, we have 14 days to save the NHS, and tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime become the sing along lyrics that stick in your mind.

Nathan Kiley who sings those words says that he has spent hours watching Tony Blair and his gestures and that he has found his opinion of him changing. The more he knows, the more he says he has found himself liking him.

But at the heart of both productions is the single defining moment of the Blair years, the war in Iraq.

In Tony! The Blair Musical the decision is looked upon as a mistake, but a heartfelt mistake.

Underlying tragedy

For a prime minister who was once derided for being a man who was all things to all people and had no true convictions his image on stage is now the very opposite.

Instead of the people pleasing "Bambi" of early cartoons, this Tony Blair is the decent man who was utterly convinced he was doing the right thing despite what those around him said, and in doing so he paid the price.

They may both be comedies but they both hint at an underlying tragedy.

However, there are no plans as yet from either company for a musical on the life of Gordon Brown.

Tony Blair the Musical is at the Gilded Balloon until 27 August. Tony! The Blair Musical is at the C Venue until 27 August.


SEE ALSO
Cutting back Edinburgh's Fringe
03 Aug 07 |  Entertainment
Edinburgh Fringe line-up revealed
07 Jun 07 |  Edinburgh and East
Edinburgh Fringe director exits
22 Jan 07 |  Edinburgh and East

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