Comedian and impressionist Matt Forde on why the new Spitting Image live at Birmingham Rep will blow your mind
Just because you’re an impressionist doesn't mean you’re funny. Mimicry and comedy can be mutually exclusive. But Matt Forde (above left) is different; one of the most naturally funny comedians of his generation just happens to be a sensational impressionist – his Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer are mind-boggling. It’s why Forde is both a star and co-writer of the new live Spitting Image show – Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves The World. it receives its world premiere, no less, at Birmingham Rep soon and, as Matt reveals, was anything but straightforward to produce. But first, the Second City…
Isn’t there a direct connection between this new Spitting Image show and Birmingham?
Yes! Sean Foley [above, right] is a fellow co-writer and the director, along with Al Murray [above centre]. Sean is a highly decorated West End producer, director and writer, and is the person behind the smash hit The Play What I Wrote, about Morecambe & Wise. He’s currently directing Upstart Crow in the West End, and is also artistic director at the Birmingham Rep, and so that’s where Idiots Assemble - Spitting Image Saves The World: Live on Stage will launch. The world premier will be at the Rep.
What are Birmingham crowds like?
When I was starting out, Birmingham had a great scene. There’s the Glee, among the best clubs in the country. Plus there was a gig in Moseley and the Midlands Arts Centre opposite Edgbaston Stadium. It was such a vibrant comedy scene. The crowds are brilliant and folk forget how massive Birmingham is, and how it has such a diverse cultural scene. Whenever I do stand-up there it’s one of the best nights of the tour.
This was originally a show purely about Boris Johnson, wasn’t it? It was going to be called The Liar King…
Yes. Now, as a political comedian, I’m used to changing my stand-up material. But writing an entire new play that requires new puppets is another level. With Spitting Image, if you’re bringing in new characters, you have to physically make them. And so the workshop would say: “Are you absolutely sure you really want a Liz Truss?” It costs tens of thousands of pounds to make these things! So yeah, it was originally called The Liar King and was all about Boris Johnson. We had the whole thing written. And then reality dawns on you that the show will be dated... that show is dead. Writing a play takes time; there’s three of you working on it, you’re thinking of big set-pieces, songs, plot strands. You get the thing together and then have to kill the whole thing. Creatively you’re very much: “F**king hell!” It was wholesale. It was like writing a film that will never be filmed.
So you who put the whole show in the bin?!
We had no other choice. The whole point is that it has to be relevant. If you put on a show about Boris now, it would look mad. The correct decision was to start again from scratch and write an entirely different show that is less hostage to fortune and events. The Liar King was really funny – but this new show is so much better. This one – Idiots Assemble – is like a Marvel Cinematic Universe treatment of all the tossers in the world: Elon Musk, Xi Xi Ping, Vladimir Putin, James Corden and this mad ensemble cast. It makes it way more satisfying as there are way more targets for comedy: celebrity, sport as well as politics.
For a funny child who could do funny voices, this is surely dreamland stuff…
Life moves along incrementally. Years later I might look back and go: “That was cool to do Donald Trump and Boris Johnson on Spitting Image.” I’ll pinch myself in retrospect. The opening night at the Rep is when I’ll feel deep pride. At the moment, there are three of us working on laptops, and then when we workshop now with the puppets it really makes things 100 times funnier.
Your Boris and Trump impressions are incredible. You must be quietly happy that your Sir Keir Starmer is also in perfect fettle…
And I do Rishi Sunak now as well, so I have a bit of an insurance policy at the next election. Starmer, at gigs right now, gets such an incredible reception. He is more ripe for comedy, which is good. [Matt slips into a note-perfect Starmer] He. Has. That. Slightly. Annoyed. Way. Of. Talking… You can actually feel his genuine annoyance when he talks these days. There’s a bit of modern Alan Partridge to Starmer – when Coogan sends Alan to the lower tones. These are the delicate touches. Plus there’s the body language and the stiff neck – so much is about physicality. And then with Rishi you have that “head boy” way of talking. I love doing both Rishi and Keir, and I don’t think anyone else is doing them right now, so if you’re the only one then it’s great.
And Idiots Assemble is a proper play, isn’t it? It’s not just sketches…
Yes – this is a proper storyline with jeopardy and plot twists. It’s not just sketches – yes, there are set-pieces, but it’s character-driven and has a story: the world is under threat from maligned forces – with Xi Xi Ping, Putin and Trump with a satirical treatment of what Putin has done to Ukraine, what is going on in the world right now and what the Tories have done to our politics. Then you’ve got Harry and Meghan, Tyson Fury, Ru Paul, Angela Rayner and a load of others trying to save the world. It’s very much: “How would those people try and save the world?” And you’ve got Tom Cruise, who is essentially leading the way. I must say: visually, Idiots Assemble is off the scale; people can’t prepare for what they’re going to see. We’ve been so ambitious with how this is going to look on the stage and what we can do with the space. We are pushing this to the limit. It will wow people – we’ve really gone for it. People will leave going: “F*cking hell – that was a show!”
Idiots Assemble - Spitting Image Saves The World: Live on Stage. February 1 to March 11 at Birmingham Rep.
THE ****ING PANDEMIC AND WHY THE COST OF LIVING IS A TOTAL ****HEAD
If your new year's resolutions touched upon working your noggin a little more, but not at the cost of sitting in a bloody classroom / lecture hall ever again, then Aston University has the answer.
Their Society Matters series of events, that have grown into quite the Thursday night success story since launching in the middle of 2022, continue at Cafe Artum in Hockley Social Club. They have three new talks across January, February and March at which wine and the city's best street food will flow, if you so desire.
The talks, targeting the intellectually curious as their audience and asking you to chip in as little or as much as you want, kick-off on January 26 with a discussion entitled Was the Pandemic Response Ethical and How Prepared are we for the Next One? Hosted by Aston Uni's Senior Teaching Fellow, Dr Lauren Traczykowski, it'll touch upon some key actions and decisions made during the crisis and other recent emergencies through a disaster ethics lens. Instead of focusing on the public health side of the emergency, this session will unpack general response and recovery issues so that participants are empowered to ask the right questions and understand certain answers – even if they are uncomfortable to us as individuals.
February's instalment is called Tackling the Cost of Living Crisis: What can we do? and invites two experts along with the audience to identify, develop and evaluate possible solutions. Presumably if we find a solution then we all split this year's Nobel Prize for Economics.
Last up, and finally explaining our expletive-riddled headline, is March 30's talk: The Science of Swearing. Join Dr Robbie Love and explore why we swear and how often we do it, how our favourite swear words changed over time and what happens in the brain when we drop an F-bomb. Come prepared to share your favourite swear words like, I don't know, jizzmuffin... That sort of thing.
All events are free with tickets for January's event available to book now while you can set reminders to nab tickets for February and March's events via the links provided.
The time travelling charm of Brum's last surviving Back to Back houses is something to preserve and promote with endless vigour. If we're a city that levels its historic buildings with too much ease, those we still have deserve maximum support.
It's with that in mind that a terrific and, unbelievably free, exhibition lands at the Hurst Street court of yesteryear homes, allowing visitors to explore stories of Commonwealth migration and learn how Birmingham became the diverse city it is today.
The National Trust is working in partnership with Sampad South Asian Arts to bring From City of Empire to City of Diversity: A Visual Journey to life until March 6. It includes images from one of the most important photographic collections at the Library of Birmingham, and documents post-1945 migration and the huge contribution made by those who settled here.
The collection of photographs from The Dyche Studios gives a fascinating and personal insight into Birmingham’s transformation. People who had moved to the city in the mid to late-20th Century visited the studio to have their portraits taken so they could send them home to their families, capturing key moments in their lives and often painting a more positive picture of life in Birmingham than they were experiencing. Together with personal memories and stories of migration, these have been transformed into an immersive series of displays which show the range of experiences that have shaped Brum.
Hannah Gidley, General Manager at the Back to Backs, said; “The time period illustrated by the exhibition is very similar to the historical periods we cover at the Back to Backs, which gives us a great opportunity to deepen our understanding of what was happening in the wider city."
The pop-up gallery is free of charge and you don't need to be book, however, it will only offer a tantalising glimpse of the Back to Backs (pictured above), so if you'd like to tour the transfixing 19th Century homes while you're there, you will need to book that in advance, a little after the time you plan to see the exhibition. The Back to Backs are free to National Trust members but are worth every penny of the £10 cost for adult non-members. Family prices are even better value.
From City of Empire to City of Diversity runsfrom 1pm to 5pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 10am to 5pm from Thursday to Sunday — just head through the bookshop on Hurst Street. More
BOOK NOW: BOOKS
Why play to 12,000 people when you can play to 12? In Autumn 2021, broadcaster, comedian, writer and one time Ricky Gervais housemate, Robin Ince, had his stadium tour with Professor Brian Cox postponed due to the pandemic. Rather than do nothing, he decided he would instead go on a tour of over a hundred bookshops, from Wigtown to Penzance; Swansea to Margate.
Packed with anecdotes and tall tales, the subsequent book, Bibliomaniac, follows Robin up and down the country in his quest to discover just why he can never have enough books. It is the story of an addiction and a romance, and of an occasional points failure just outside Oxenholme.
The book has evolved into a new tour which is coming to Brum, a city that doesn't have enough independent book shops, not enough by half. Robin will appear at The Electric (£10), February 8 and he's really very, very good, this guy. He also won Celebrity Mastermind but forgot that calcium was the dominant element of chalk and is currently trying to invent an effective satnav for people who believe the world is flat.
So in demand has award-laden Brummie comedian, Shazia Mirza, been that extra dates have been added in 2023 for her tour Coconut, including one night at The Rep. In her latest show, Shazia takes on the burning (and infectious) issues of our time in this searing and urgent exploration of life, love and Jihadi brides. Recently seen on BBC1’s Would I Lie To You, BBC 2’s The Pilgrimage and back to absolute basics in Channel 4’s Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, Shazia's Coconut was nominated for ‘Best Stand Up Tour Show’ in Channel 4’s National Comedy Awards. The Rep, March 11, £18
Being as their burgers alone can cost up to £15 and their fries alone can cost up to £8.50, Hanbao's 'Any Burger, Any Fries and a Soft Drink for £15' deal is decent value. January only and from 12pm to 4pm, Weds to Fri only. More —
Not to be outdone, both Original Patty Men venues (under the arches and in the pub) are offering 30% off when dining in or if ordering on Uber Eats. Just spend £15 to land the juicy deal. Details —
Speaking of value, a pair of tickets to see Goodfellas at MAC plus a meal for both of you and two drinks is only £53. The excellent onsite restaurant, KILN, are doing Paulie’s Spaghetti & Meatballs or Tommy’s Mother’s Lasagne, plus tiramisu. Tomorrow —
The exceptional Solihull-based Toffs By Rob Palmer are also giving the cost of living the V-signs by unveiling a five courses for £55 offer, which includes Friday night and Saturday lunch! Runs until Feb 10, too. Details —
Welcome in the Year of the Rabbit at Birmingham’s Lunar New Year celebrations, across Chinatown and the city centre this weekend. There be dragons. Free —
Kids eat for £1 at the new and lauded Edgbaston pizzeria, Smoke + Ash. Terms apply —
It's 23% off at the Cod's Scallops in Harborne throughout Jan. Prove it! —
Birmingham based cancer support charity, Help Harry Help Others, is bringing back the Birmingham Walkathon after a ten year hiatus. Walk the number 11 bus route! April —
AirNation "inflatable theme park" is opening in Kings Heath, where the Poundstretcher was, next door to Sainos. Here's what their St Helen's venue looks like. Kids are going to completely lose control of their faculties over this, aren't they? —
I'll be coming first at NQ64's Mario Kart competition, January 25, but second place is still up for grabs.
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