Some relatively cursory research tells me there are at least nine Fringe shows with ‘Brexit’ in their title, a number much smaller than I would have imagined (though there are countless more that mention the portmanteau in their show pitch). And, being a real staple genre of the Fringe, there are at least 30-odd cabaret shows. So although not particularly intrepid, Jonny Woo’s All Star Brexit Cabaret is in a certain sense exactly what it says: an all-star Fringe production, gifting us with greatest hits of the festival and icing them with yellow and blue sequins.
The East London drag performer collaborates with the composer of Jerry Springer The Opera, Richard Thomas, to create a predictably irreverent but still funny series of songs around the rather loaded subject. Thinly framed as a fairy tale, the show concentrates mostly on the run-up to the referendum instead of its aftermath. Woo admits to being a Remainer, but even with some good jabs at David Cameron (remember the pig?) and legendary Le Gateau Chocolat as Nigel Farage (a real moment of genius), Woo’s Brexit Cabaret’s main aim is to joyfully trivialize this pivotal moment in British history.
One of the best things about this show, apart from the formidable singing from Woo and backing singers Sooz Kempner, Adam Perchard, and Kevin Davies, is how it captures the inane ‘conversation’ that surrounds trigger words like ‘EU’, ‘Article 50’, ‘Referendum’, and ‘Boris Johnson’. The show is not particularly incisive or interrogative, but neither is the national discussion on the subject, which has thus far been steeped in lazy stereotypes of voters and name-calling (hence songs like ‘The Great Cunting Debate’ and ‘Swivel Eyed Loon’). So to satirize, here, is really just to reflect our rather dire reality. And with a couple of good jokes about hipster-remainers only wanting their fast-track trip to Berghain, why not add a little camp to the divided camps?
That being said, it does feel like it could go further in exploring why this conversational register is so toxic. Woo admits his slant on the subject is heavily influenced by his conversations with his Brexiteer father. That of course makes sense, and actually renders the satire more relatable. But if anything, the show might benefit from more interrogation of those jarring political discussions between East London and Essex, between Clapton and Kent, that are often founded in personal relationships.
As conventional Fringe content goes, though, it’s strong and stable. Entertaining and well performed, Woo’s Brexit Cabaret fulfils its brief and adds a little glam to a subject so glum.
Jonny Woo’s Brexit Cabaret is on until 27 August 2018 at Assembly George Square. Click here for more details.