Comedy review: Matt Forde’s Christmas political party
Forde presses all of the right buttons to get laughs from two rival New Labour heavyweights.
With Alastair Campbell and Ed Balls as star guests, Matt Forde’s Christmas show often threatened to be a massive a New Labour love-in.
"What would you buy Jeremy Corbyn for Christmas?" asked one punter. "A strategy," shot back Campbell to wild applause.
There didn’t appear to be any diehard Corbynites in the crowd at Leicester Square Theatre, which was probably for the best. But Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson was there and appeared to be enjoying himself. Just don’t tell Jeremy.
The show was opened and closed by parliamentary rockers MP4 – aka Kevin Brennan, Ian Cawsey, Greg Knight and Pete Wishart. Helped by Brennan’s impressive vocals, the ‘only parliamentary band in the world’ fuelled the party spirit with a few solid rock numbers and the odd Christmas classic.
In conversation with Forde, Campbell spilled the beans on his backstage BBCQT row with John McDonnell and divulged more than he might have intended to about his relationship with Tony Blair.
Apparently, Blair always calls him Ali on the phone. And Campbell is slightly uncomfortable with that.
But things really got interesting when Balls made his way onto the stage – and the faultlines in the New Labour project started to show.
Gordon Brown’s former right hand man and Tony Blair’s ex-spin supremo are good pals these days. But that doesn’t mean that the Blair-Brown wars that paralysed the last three Labour governments are now ancient history and that everybody has moved on.
Balls declared: “We can talk openly about it now because it’s really important but there’s also humour in it and we’ve both come out of the other side. It’s fine.”
Campbell retorted: “I don’t think it’s totally fine.”
Balls pressed on: “I fundamentally blame Tony and Gordon. They should have seen that they were stronger together…. But I’m not going to take sides.”
Campbell said he might still want to take sides, actually.
A former Labour special adviser himself, Forde skillfully managed the New Labour banter by pushing the right buttons, chucking in the odd impression, gently mocking his interviewees and ensuring that it didn’t get too serious too often. Crucially, he also knew when to keep quiet and light his metaphorical cigar.
After a highly entertaining couple of hours, the show ended with Campbell doing a turn on the bagpipes. And Balls showing off his dance moves. Obviously.
The Labour MP's account of 'what it means to be a woman today' is out next week.
Playwright James Graham will explore how Britain's most influential newspaper gave voice to a marginalised working class.
The former Ukip leader is not James O’Brien's favourite politician.