Forget Tuesday’s sold out evening with Jacob Rees-Mogg at the London Palladium. Saturday night saw the Brexit spectacle to end all spectacles: actor Andy Serkis dressed as Theresa May singing a Brexit-themed reworking of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody as Gollum from Lord of the Rings backed by a full choir. You read that correctly.
Wearing chunky pearls and a power suit, a cropped grey wig and wacky shoes, the Black Panther actor hissed and sputtered his way through the song as he mimicked the Prime Minister’s awkward physicality and EU-related mental torment.
Adopting the sinister voice of the small, slimy creature he made famous in Peter Jackson’s Tolkien film trilogy, Serkis faked a coughing fit, shagged the air and, at one point, suppressed a Nazi salute. It was quite the most bizarre performance I’ve seen for years and it wholly upstaged the event for which it was meant to serve as an amusing encore, a Brexit-themed oratorio composed by Nitin Sawhney.
Born in Kent in 1964 to Punjabi immigrant parents, Sawhney’s skills as a songwriter lie in fusing Western and Eastern influences and traditions. The first half of the evening showcased his back catalogue, from the tabla-infused chillcore of 2013’s Sunset to the flamenco-drum ‘n’ bass-raga blend of Homelands, the latter backed with swooning lushness by the National Youth Orchestra. Sawhney conjured unexpected textures fantastically, and his band – particularly the versatile vocalist Nicki Wells – were outstanding.
Then came the oratorio itself. Named Brexit – A Rational Anthem for a National Tantrum, the three-movement piece was commissioned for Sky Arts’ Art 50 project, which is funding 50 arts projects to sum up what Brexit Britain looks and feels like. Introducing it, Sawhney said that watching Parliament argue made him feel like the country had lost its senses.
The first movement, sung by the London Contemporary Voices choir, was written from Leavers’ point of view. “We believe in separation,” the choir sang. The pre-recorded audio interviews that overlaid the second movement were with people from “up and down the country”, all of whom happened to be Remainers (including, oddly, Deborah Meaden from Dragon’s Den, who apparently curbed her propensity to cry “I’m out” at the referendum ballot box).
It was all fine but, like Brexit itself, felt a bit wishy-washy. A roar of white noise would surely have been more appropriate at this fruitless late stage. And sitting in The Barbican, a cauldron for the liberal metropolitan elite if there ever was one, there was an inescapable feel of Orchestral Remoaners in the Dark to proceedings.
And then came Serkis. He walked on stage doing the godawful ‘May-bot’ dance to Abba’s Dancing Queen, just as our Prime Minister did at her party conference last autumn in an attempt to take the mick out of herself. Here was an actor in drag lampooning our Prime Minister lampooning herself. It was surreal, dark and scary. And a far better reflection of our times.