Words by Ed King / Images courtesy of Avalon – profile pics by Mark Harrison
If you ask someone of a certain age to “stick a deckchair up your nose” (or indeed to “casserole your gran”) they’ll immediately think a cigar smoking Thatcher, peas for dinner with John and Norma, and a mischievous gig swigging Queen Mum – firm fixtures in the original cast of Spitting Image.
First broadcast in 1984, Spitting Image is the ground breaking TV political satire sketch show where a cast of caricature puppets poke fun at modern figureheads from Westminster and popular culture.
Now, nearly 40 years to the day it was first aired, Spitting Image is treading the boards with its world premiere at Birmingham REP – running from Wednesday 1 February to Saturday 11 March.
Written by Al Murray (The Pub Landord), Matt Forde (Political Party), and the REP’s own Artistic Director Sean Foley (The Play What I Wrote) – the latter also sitting in the director’s chair – Idiots Assemble presents a modern cast including King Charles, Idris Elba, Adele, Greta Thunberg, and Rishi Sunak.
Produced by comedy giants Avalon and Birmingham Rep, the plot for the Spitting Image stage show is a relatively closely kept secret – although as the full title suggests it’s unlikely to celebrate the cerebral prowess of its protagonists. And in a world with pick and mix Prime Ministers, temper tantrum threats of nuclear war, and Donald Trump, the line between farce and reality has seldom been so faint.
Sean Foley told: “Trying to develop a satirical comedy based on the shifting politics of today has been the original fool’s errand: we’ve already thrown away three entire scripts – and several famous puppets aren’t even going to make their stage debuts anymore…
“But the sheer joy of casting Tom Cruise alongside King Charles, Greta Thunberg, RuPaul and Meghan Markle has made up for it. To be premiering this theatrical extravaganza in Birmingham, the home of the original ground-breaking television series, is a wonderful thrill.”
Born from the plasticine caricatures Fluck and Law created for the Sunday Times magazine, Spitting Image was originally dismissed by TV execs who believed a show with puppets could only be aimed at children.
However, after continued petitioning from Lambie-Nairn the show was picked up by the then called Central Independent Television (now ITV) and brought to the small screen on 26 February 1984 – amassing nearly 8 million viewers.
Ratings for Spitting Image dropped during the first season, with the final episode being axed, and writers Dough Grant and Rob Naylor were recruited to salvage the show for series two. Under their guidance, the writing team behind Spitting Image (which included Richard Curtis, Ian Hislop, and Ben Elton) saw the show achieve cultural acclaim and a peak of 15million viewers.
And if any Gen Zeder out there reading this is and screaming “…RELEVANCE?!?” into their iPhone27, check out the B side (turn the plastic round thing over) to the inaugural Spitting Image release and embrace the sad realisation somethings, or people, just never change.
Spitting Image was, however, finally taken off air in 1996 after a decline in viewing figures, but was briefly reborn for two series on the BBC/ITV digital broadcast platform BritBox – with Al Murray and Matt Forde amongst the team of writers, and a new cast of contemporaries including Boris Johnson, Billie Eilish, and Gareth Southgate.
Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves the World is the first time the sketch show has been adapted for the stage, making its world premiere at the Birmingham Rep from Wednesday 1 February to Saturday 11 March.
Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves the World – introduced by Al Murray, Matt Forde, Sean Foley
For more on Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves the World at Birmingham Rep, including the full performance schedule and links to online ticket sales, visit: www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/spitting-image-live