You’ve quite possibly seen Jonathan Pie on your social media timeline with some clickbait headline like: ‘Watch this reporter lose it and reveal the REAL news’. The clips of him, an apparently sober broadcast journalist letting rip into social inequalities and political hypocrisy once he thinks the cameras are off, have become a viral phenomenon.
How, though, to translate this into an hour-long show? Quite simply by not fiddling too much with a winning formula.
The premise is that we’re here for a live Children In Need segment; a way of justifiably putting the Pie character into a theatre and giving him several pieces to camera over the space of an hour, as well as raising his pique by parachuting him into light entertainment when he considers himself a current affairs heavyweight.
Combine this with some domestic stresses – we get a hint of Pie’s troubled back-story here – and you have a timebomb ready to explode.
And when it does go off… wow, what frenzied tirades of vicious invective are unleashed. The repressed fury of a generation focussed into a single point, igniting a fiery lake of vitriol. It’s a staggering tour-de-force of righteous visceral rage from Tom Walker, the actor behind Pie, relishing the chance to unleash hell; then snapping back to TV professionalism in the crackle of an earpiece.
Now this is where reviewing the show as a comedy becomes tricky. For the content of these blistering polemics are more depressing than funny, especially for anyone who shares Pie’s left-wing viewpoint. His diatribes only serve to highlight how the government has insidiously undermined great institutions such as the NHS and the BBC on the alter of free market forces, carving up the country so the rich can get richer and the poor (basically anyone not amazingly wealthy), the disabled and the needy get shafted.
The left doesn’t entirely escape unscathed as Pie despairs for the current state of the Labour Party and the political discourse distracted by an obsession with matters of ‘causing offence’. If only Jeremy Corbyn had just one tenth Pie’s passion, or if the collective energy that was focussed on to ‘beach body ready’ adverts were aimed at more destructive enemies…
The question, perhaps, shouldn’t be how to translate Pie’s online videos into a stage show, but how to translate them into real political action.
Co-writer Andrew Doyle knows his stuff, and this is an excoriating manifesto on the state of Britain. There’s acknowledgement, too, that the attacks are ‘ad hominem’ – against the personalities rather than their politics. But it is rather fun (if easy) to lay into the privileged toffs who play fast and loose with the levers of power for their own selfish ends.
That’s where those elements which are funny come from; those brutal character assassinations – as well, of course, as the sheer build up and release of tense energy that Walker’s dazzling performance creates. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to come out of the show with a happy heart after being faced with the bleak truth, so forcefully presented.
But it is an incredible ride of an hour. If you want chuckles, go elsewhere – but if you want a devastating critique of the state of the nation, especially timely after the EU referendum, delivered via an electrifying performance, then grab yourself a slice of Pie.