Not that long ago, in 2006, when Jerry Springer – The Opera, Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee’s outlandish and provocative satire of over-the-top tabloid chat shows, first toured this country, outraged citizens (who in all probability hadn’t actually seen the show but knew in their hearts that they should definitely be outraged) demonstrated long and hard outside any regional theatres who had the balls to mount the show – sorry, this sort of stuff does seem to be catching after all.
Bill Elms was working at the Liverpool Empire at the time and recalls that protesters there were so demonstrative that they had to shut off the street. Today, Elms is one of the partners in Northern Ricochet Productions with James Baker and Tom Chester and they’ve chosen to present this new version of the show, the first since that tour, as the debut production for their new Northern theatre powerhouse.
What, if anything, does this tell us about how far we’ve come? For one thing, there weren’t any demonstrators outside Hope Mill Theatre but director James Baker insists that the show is at least as relevant now in this age of ‘post-truth’ as it was back when The Jerry Springer Show was a huge, if controversial, TV hit. It should go without saying, of course, that irreverent treatment of Christian themes, gleeful profanity and suggesting that the Ku Klux Klan are desperate for their moment on TV will inevitably get you into trouble with some people. But Baker believes that “Jerry Springer is a show that exposes the weaknesses of our egocentric self-obsessed need for self gain, our sense of entitlement. You think these shows are the problem? The cause? No, we are.”
Now that we’re living through such absurd and dangerous times that the likes of Trump and Boris are calling the shots, with more TV programmes than ever seemingly about to fall over a Jeremy Kyle-type cliff, what’s remarkable is that this relentless, hysterical, exhausting, utterly outrageous and shameless assault on the senses of a show still manages to be so hilarious. The dozen or so members of the cast, with only Jerry (Michael Howe) and his faithful minder Steve (Kai Jolley) providing the teeniest bit of relative calm, throw themselves into all this foul-mouthed chaos with such apparent recklessness (although I’m sure they’re actually very well-drilled) that the show is one of the few that might actually live up to that over-used epithet ‘edgy’.
Meanwhile, the choir (although not everyone around me was entirely convinced of their value) add to the impression that, to quote the greatest rock song ever, ‘rape, murder, is just a shot away’.
You might want to think twice about singing any of its songs in public but Jerry Springer – The Musical is dangerous fun, and Hope Mill Theatre might just be the best place you’re ever going to see it.
Main image: Jerry Springer – The Opera. Credit: Anthony Robling
Jerry Springer: The Musical is on at Hope Mill Theatre until August 31, 2019. For more information, click here.
To read Northern Soul’s interview with Northern Ricochet, click here.