To Die Laughing

Issue section: 

Review of 'Follow My Leader' by Alistair Beaton, Hampstead Theatre, London

God asks Blair to be a 'restraining influence' on George Bush, 'who scares the life out of me'. He agrees but is soon doing the exact opposite as he dances with Bush singing 'Two Loving Dads', which justifies the killing of other people's children. This is the opening sequence to Alistair Beaton's very funny musical Follow My Leader, which satirises Bush, Blair and other warmongers.

Alistair Beaton explained to me that he and his family were drawn into the protests against the war. 'My daughter led a walkout from school. That was very heartening. I found myself sitting in the roadway outside parliament on 18 March, the final vote for war. I made up my mind I was going to be arrested... It got me very angry and made me want to write something.'

In the play Blair is shown helping Bush get the idea of a war accepted by the American people. The pair trample on civil liberties. Soldiers bring onto the stage a boiler-suited prisoner who is bound so he can neither see nor hear. Above them appear the words of government minister Ben Bradshaw reassuring us that Guantanamo prisoners are treated in line with international law. Newly confident, sharp-suited neo-conservatives sing the hilarious song of 'Pre-emptive Defence' in which almost any situation or person can be a potential threat and therefore destroyed. They point to the shoes of the audience as possible bombs and throw scarves over people's heads to see if it makes them look suspicious.

Mass protests do rattle Blair. Film footage of the millions marching on 15 February fill the walls of the stage as Blair and his advisers desperately discuss ways of ignoring it. Defying the protests, Bush and Blair go to war. They kneel to sing 'We are sending you a cluster bomb from Jesus.' Behind them filmed bombs fall through the air, splitting into numerous bomblets that land in a crescendo of explosions. The brutality of war is ignored by the embedded journalists who sing that they have 'become another weapon the army deploys'. But Alistair Beaton also gives us Robert Fisk's account of the bombed town of Hillah and we hear the desperate plea from an Iraqi doctor who has to treat the terrible wounds.

Not everyone suffers as a result of the war. When Bush visits Iraq on Thanksgiving Day, he carves up a huge turkey into four-foot slices, each slice bearing the name of an American corporation and the amount of money it is to be given.

As the neo-conservatives plan further grotesque invasions, Bush abandons the increasingly discredited Blair. The show ends with Bush standing ahead of his triumphant forces singing 'Welcome to the New World Order.' The tiny absurd figure of Blair grins from between his legs waving a small Union Jack.

The continuous stream of jokes against Blair and the neo-cons gives this show an optimistic mood. It is an exciting, stylish production. However, its lack of any explanation for the war, combined with the mournful song of the protester, carries a pessimistic message. Speaking to me about the show Alistair Beaton said, 'I want to give heart to the people who worked out of cramped offices for damn-all money and slogged the streets in protest. I think we are in for very dark times for civil liberties and military aggression. My hope is that the war can be the beginning of some sort of radicalisation. My fear is that it will just bleed away.' We must make sure that doesn't happen.