Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • THE MADNESS OF GEORGE DUBYA • Pleasance Theatre • 2003

logoroguesJustin Butcher is on a roll. His play Scaramouche Jones went on a UK tour in 2002 starring Pete Postlethwaite, with a world tour hoped for this year. His updating of the Hippolytus/Phaedra legend, Breaking Strain, premièred at Theatro Technis last October where it enjoyed a sell-out run, and his recent play on radio The Man on the Pillar was voted BBC Radio Pick of the Day in The Guardian, The Times and the Radio Times. Butcher’s latest is a response to the growing threat of war. The Madness of George Dubya: Strangelove Revisited, written in three days and rehearsed in six, has recently been engendering laughter, cheers and applause from London audiences.

Take Dr Strangelove, The Madness of George III, and several Tom Lehrer songs, wrap it around war on Iraq and you have The Madness of George Dubya. There is the mad American general (Richard Leaf) in charge of a US air base in Britain, his British sidekick, Group Captain Windbreak (Andy Havill), two airborne American pilots (Jonah Russell and Jamie Bower) waiting and waiting for the order to attack or return, and assorted British and American officials. Dubya (Thomas Arnold) takes centre stage, closeted in a bunker – for safekeeping, you understand – dressed in pyjamas and clutching to his bosom an enormous teddy bear. His counterpart, played with admirable economy by Nicholas Burns, is ‘Tony Blear’. Cherie has taught Tony how to breathe in times of crisis and every so often the character turns away from the furore to compose himself, and our laughter increases with every breath. This is not an ‘impression’ such as Rory Bremner’s: Burns provides just enough and no more of the tics and the head turns to show, interestingly, more of a man than we ever get to see from the real Prime Minister.

Satire is a rare commodity on stage at present, unless you count Bremner’s recent appearance in the West End along with Johns Bird and Fortune, and it is refreshing to see this instant reaction, undoubtedly updated as the days pass, to the mess engulfing the world. The play first opened at Theatro Technis before transferring to the Pleasance on 11th February. After a shaky start with low energy levels and lack of projection during the first two scenes the night I saw it, the piece picks up considerably at the entrance of Lindsay Ellis as ‘Yasmina the Cleaner – a very nice girl’, sung with gusto by Ellis and company. Yasmina is so nice that she actually runs the local terrorist cell, simply waiting for the opportunity to blow herself to kingdom come. She high kicks her way around the stage and up onto the desks, opening her overalls to reveal the arsenal encircling her hips.

As in Doctor Strangelove, the mad General Kipper – for whom war is the ultimate buzz – orders an attack on primary Iraqi targets in advance of any unanimous decision. This brings our two hapless, disbelieving pilots to the fore as they struggle for confirmation by trying to decode the order with a code book previously ripped to shreds by one of the pilots whose stomach has been somewhat troublesome of late. Windbreak, a typically ineffectual British officer (a straight, Rattigan-like performance from Andy Havill that could slot neatly into Flare Path and is here the funnier for it) has to deal with the fall-out, and when the general – the only one to know the code for halting the attack – shoots himself dead in a sealed room, we have to wonder whether time is going to run out before Windbreak is able to pass the news on to Downing Street.

Although, ultimately, the situation is ‘resolved’ (it would be churlish to reveal how), and although it is clear that Butcher’s aim is to show the absurdity of such circumstances and the reasons not to go to war, we are confronted by our past dealings with Iraq – not just by the fact that we sold arms to Saddam but other highly questionable decisions from our history. This goes a little way to explain things from an Iraqi’s perspective. It gives you pause for thought, if nothing else.

Fast-moving, occasionally confusing, The Madness of George Dubya is a show that can pick you up from your despair about the world by making you laugh, confirm or, perhaps, alter your opinions a shade, and is a must. Sadly, the run ends at the Pleasance this evening although there is talk of a possible transfer to the Arts Theatre. If the powers-that-be have any sense, they will ensure its transfer.

Sarah Vernon © 2003

Originally published on R&V 23-02-03


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Gretchen Del Rio's Art Blog

Watercolor paintings

Today in History

"Tell me a fact, and I'll learn. Tell me a truth, and I'll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever." - Steve Sabol, NFL Films

The Architect & I

The Nazis assigned him a number but I wanted the world to know his name.

Basic Archaeology

Archaeology News, Interesting Facts and More


Being a web log for the observations of actor, author, cartoonist, comedian, critic, director, humorist, journalist, master of ceremonies, performance artist, playwright, producer, publicist, public speaker, songwriter, and variety booker Trav S.D.

LOIS BRYAN Photography and Digital Art


A Green future for the Isle of Wight


a world travel photo blog by Jackie Hadel


Music means something


Literatura y consejos.


A Backward Look Forward


Freelance Film Critic

Christine Parker Art Blog

Sharing my paintings


The Novel

Susan Brazier Illustrations

Various Illustrations both previous and ongoing.

Wolves in London

Making stuff and pootling in the garden


it's all about the story, possums...

Art Bacchant

drunk on the arts

Professional Pin-Cushion in Makeup & Mittens

Loving yourself & Living with Scleroderma!

London Wlogger

Walking blogger exploring London's hidden gems, sights and history!

Winkos: a straw bale building adventure in Poland

A journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle


Online zeitung

The Elegant Mind

"The only real elegance is in the mind; if you've got that, the rest really comes from it." Diana Vreeland

National Trust Press Office

National Trust news, events and insight


Art, Literature, Poetry, Politics and a little History

Gemma's Journey

Culture Blogger | Theatre Lover | Follow my Journalism journey | BA Journalism Grad. 2016 @SunderlandUni | Views are my own

Robbie's inspiration

Ideas on writing and baking

Tracy Leibmann

Handmade Jewelry & Accessories

Beyond today, tomorrow

Things from the past and present which may some some relevance in our future

Ambiance Déco

Our space has a real effect on our emotions. Simply change your room arrangements to change your mood. Start to observe your surroundings to feel calm, relaxed and Happy.

kirilson photography

the stories behind the pictures, and vice versa

The Handcrafted Company

Bespoke Handcrafted Woodwork & Artwork

21st Century Theater

A collection of fragments more than the sum of its shards

Vicky Painter Illustrations

art & illustration

Curious Paleo

Exploring the world of Paleontology through new scientific articles, photos, and art

Promoting a Peaceful Political Revolution

Meeka's Mind

All things sporadic!

Diary of a Sapper

The war diary of Ernest Lawrence Garraway, 1916 - 1917

Victorian Paris

Life in 19th Century Paris

Course of Mirrors

the phenomenon of reflection

James Radcliffe, Musician. Music, Blog, Pictures, Live, News...

%d bloggers like this: