'Madness of George Dubya' a UK hit
LONDON, England (Reuters - 9 Feb) --British theatre-goers are flocking to a new farce which mocks U.S. President George W. Bush as a pyjama-wearing buffoon cuddling a teddy-bear while his crazed military chiefs order nuclear strikes on Iraq.
"The Madness of George Dubya" -- which mercilessly satirises British Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as Bush -- has proved such a success at a fringe theatre in London that it is moving to a larger venue next week for an extended run.
"As war comes closer, the mood among audiences has changed," actor Nicholas Burns, who plays Blair, said after a performance this week. "The audience is actually laughing more, but the tension behind their laughs has grown. People are scared."
The play, whose title picks up on the Texan pronunciation of Bush's middle initial, is the only overtly anti-war play written in Britain during the Iraq standoff.
It comes, however, against a backdrop of increasing disquiet among UK intellectuals and artists about London's support for Washington's hawkish position towards Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Many have been writing poems and open letters or attending anti-war events.
Director Justin Butcher wrote "The Madness" in three days after Christmas -- then rehearsed it in six -- in a fit of pique against the American establishment following a brush with some U.S. security agents on a trip to Romania.
The agents were in Bucharest preparing for an imminent Bush visit and interrogated Butcher and a friend in a hotel after overhearing a conversation between them that they said they were "not comfortable with," the director said.
"That was a key influence in my feeling that in the arts scene we were in need of a wakeup call about the influence of American imperialism in the world," Butcher told Reuters after a full house had again cheered his play to the rafters.
"This is not a racist, anti-American thing. It's a satirical attack on what the U.S. and British governments are doing."
As well as echoing in its title a 1994 film, "The Madness of King George," about Britain's 18th century King George III, Butcher's satire re-works plot elements from Stanley Kubrick's 1964 classic "Dr Strangelove."
Throughout the play, Bush -- with a cowboy hat and Superman T-shirt as well as his pyjamas -- wanders around uttering an idiot's commentary from the bunker (or "bunkbed" as he calls it) where his "special guys" have put him for safekeeping.
"Often times I get confused and forget stuff," he says, as he rails against the risk from "Islamic tourist states."
"Tourists are brown folks who get on planes and come to America and do bad things, so we're having a war on tourism," he says in one of various risque wisecracks in the play.
Enlivened by slapstick song and dances, the play tracks the consequences of a psychotic, eye-bulging American general's decision to launch preemptive nuclear strikes on Iraq.
Rubbishing the United Nations as a "bunch of pinko, degenerate subversives" and Bush and Blair as a "pair of goddamn degenerates," General Kipper puts the world on the brink of war before an al Qaeda operative disguised as a cleaner produces the secret code to recall U.S. fighter pilots.
Amid the humour, a dignified speech by the Iraqi ambassador to a panicked Blair is the seminal political moment of the play. Audience laughter fell to a hush on a recent night as the actor offered a withering critique of Western hypocrisy towards Iraq.
While criticising Saddam as a "butcher" -- "We hate him, but we hate you more," he tells the U.S. and American officials -- he also hails the Iraqi leader as an "Arab Robin Hood, the only one to give Uncle Sam the finger."
Blair is depicted as a dithering, image-conscious puppet of the Americans, who cries out for his spin doctor Alastair Campbell -- "Alastair, help me" -- in moments of need.