INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Times APRIL 12, 2010 - by Clive Davis
RORY BREMNER AT OXFORD PLAYHOUSE
For those of us who are dreading the soundbites and photo opportunities of the election, Bremner offers a breath of sanity.
Back in the late '70s, Mike Yarwood, then the king of Britain's impressionists, never quite recovered from his inability to impersonate Margaret Thatcher. Rory Bremner will face a similar problem if David Cameron grabs the keys to Number 10: as the comic freely admits, he hasn't yet been able to master that slick PR man's voice. Nick Clegg gives him almost as many problems.
However, on the evidence of this thought-provoking show, Bremner needn't worry too much. True, you cannot help noticing that many of his best comic turns are inspired by politicians who are on the verge of becoming yesterday's men. His John Prescott - channelled through the ghost of Les Dawson - is a joy, his David Blunkett remains almost cruelly precise and Michael Howard still sounds as if he has just feasted on a corpse.
Like his Channel 4 series, Bremner's Election Battlebus tour delivers much more than a string of funny accents.
For those of us who are dreading the endless soundbites and photo opportunities of the campaign - not to mention the sight of Jeremy Vine deriving some sort of erotic pleasure from playing with his computer graphics - Bremner offers a breath of sanity. Here is an entertainer who understands that voters can still be treated as adults.
The ninety-minute performance comes in two distinct halves. In the first, Bremner rambles amiably through a stand-up routine that makes room for a fair number of his greatest hits. It all feels a little too casual at times, perhaps - as if the script had been cobbled together in the back seat as the driver pulled up at the stage door. Still, there are just enough local references to keep the audience happy. The idea of the super-chic Lord Mandelson refusing to go canvassing on the Blackbird Leys estate - or anywhere boasting a Matalan store - sounds all too plausible.
Later, our host turned into a kinder, gentler version of Jeremy Paxman as he invited a trio of guests to join in a conversation about the state of the body politic. On this occasion the author Will Hutton lined up with Bremner's friend, the musician-activist Brian Eno and Jill Kirby, director of the right-wing think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies. Given that Bremner belongs on the liberal Left and that most of the audience seemed to live in North Oxford - metaphorically speaking anyway - it was not perhaps the most balanced of panels. Kirby's shrill, sub-Mrs T approach was not exactly designed to win over neutrals.
But, as the voters joined in with a Q&A, we found ourselves in an old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood public meeting, a million miles from the virtual world of tweets, blogs and focus groups. Eno rightly singled out the tabloidisation of our media as one reason why politics has become so grubby. Bremner squeezed in a joke or an impression whenever an opening presented itself. And when one questioner raised the subject of civil liberties and CCTV, a passing police siren echoed around the auditorium. The timing could not have been better.