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Meet the Writers Behind a New Musical About British Left-Wing Leader Jeremy Corbyn

The new musical sees Prime Minister Corbyn locked in a nuclear stand off with Putin, to the backdrop of an alleged affair with Labour MP Diane Abbott.

by Amelia Dimoldenberg
Jan 28 2016, 3:30pm

Jeremy Corbyn. Photo by Oscar Webb

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Great romances have been immortalized on stage and screen throughout time: Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Romeo and Juliet, Edward and Bella, Jacob and Bella. These couples symbolize an unattainable dream, a dream that usually ends with an untimely death. Nonetheless, now comes the greatest romance of them all: the story of a fling between a young Jeremy Corbyn and Dianne Abbott, a tale brought to life on stage in Corbyn the Musical: the Motorcycle Diaries.

The musical, directed by Adam Lenson, will be opening at the Waterloo East Theatre in Westminster on April 12 and will run for two weeks. Tickets were released on Monday and have already sold out.

The plot is uncomfortably bizarre. It sees Jeremy Corbyn—now Prime Minister—facing a nuclear standoff with Russian President Vladimir Putin, set to a backdrop of a motorbike ride taken by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP Diane Abbott that supposedly really happened in East Germany in the 1970s. Corbyn and Abbott have never commented on the alleged fling.

There has already been some backlash from Corbynistas, who protest that Corbyn is not fair game. Unsurprisingly, the show's writers—journalists Rupert Myers and Bobby Friedman—seemed to think otherwise.

VICE: So this is your first musical. How long did it take you to come up with the idea?
Rupert Myers: After we got word of the Corbyn and Abbott motorbike saga, we came up with the plot in the space of about 20 minutes, and since then there hasn't been a lot of tinkering with that.

Is this the first time you two have worked together?
No, we both studied at Emmanuelle College, Cambridge, and had a university radio show called Rock and Roll Politics. You can literally summarize the show as "and that was an interview with Conservative MP John Redwood and now it's time for Cream, 'Sunshine Of Your Love.'" It was a very strange mix that, we will be honest enough to admit, did not change the face of British radio.
Bobby Friedman: I don't know if Rupert remembers it, but we did actually say that line.

Why is Jeremy the perfect character for a musical?
This musical is the biggest compliment to Jeremy Corbyn, because he's actually the only politician who really justifies having this, and people would want to go and see because they are fascinated by it.
Myers: Corbyn is from a small group of politicians, alongside people like John Galloway, John Prescott, and Boris Johnson, who have more dimensions to them then other politicians. Corbyn is the freshest one on the scene.

Did you didn't expect the backlash that came when the musical was announced?

No, I was genuinely surprised, because if you look at Bobby, who has worked for the BBC, and you look at me, who has written for seven years for the [relatively left-wing] Guardian, I was quite shocked. People write in the comment section that I must be a Tory and when I write for the Telegraph people comment saying I must be on the left. I think it's possible to tell jokes about people without anyone thinking it's from a specific political agenda. I think people are going to see it's a fair comedy and not a tedious 90-minute treatise on our political views which no one would want to see or put on.

Friedman: I've had a few comments from people on Twitter but there are an awful lot of odd people on Twitter, so it doesn't bother me. By and large the reaction has been incredibly positive—this is the fasting-ever-selling play at our theater and our advertising budget has been literally zero.

Rupert and Bobby

Why do you think the show sold out so quickly?
Myers: I think it was the title.
Friedman: It was just an idea that sounds mad, but when you hear it you think, I do in fact want to see that show because it is inherently funny.
Myers: Politics is, at the moment, quite depressing for a lot of people and they are quite keen and maybe even desperate for the chance to laugh about it. Some situations you can laugh or you can cry. I think the Labour Party is in fact going to choose to laugh.

Many people would think the Labour Party is making a joke of itself at the moment, without the need for political satire.
Friedman: I don't think you can ever say that any major political party is beyond satire. Some of the lines do write themselves and there is a huge about of material. But it's not just about Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. It's about other politicians as well. You can always poke fun at your leaders and it's a form of political analysis. There is always call for that.

Myers: I don't think that a lot of Labour supporters would agree that Labour is down. Thousands of Labour supports elected Jeremy Corbyn to be the most popular leader—in terms of people who have voted for him—in the party's history. They would say that they have gotten their party back and that the dawn has broken.

What punches will you throw at Corbyn?
Friedman: I think we critique all aspects. There is no other politician taken as seriously by his own supporters as Jeremy Corbyn—if you were to go on Twitter now and write, "Jeremy Corbyn is an idiot," you will have tens of people coming straight back at you. It's all very serious and there is a lot to laugh at.

Is it a challenge to satirize left-wing politicians?
Myers: I think it's Nish Kumar who says, "It's harder to make jokes from a right-wing perspective." What Bobby and I agreed upon is that this is not a right-wing musical. We attempt to do it from the center—that in itself is something unique because if you look at the history of political satire it tends to be written by people who are more towards one side than the other. We are trying to be balanced, so it would be interesting to see what the reaction would be.

Did you learn anything from the experience of writing a musical?
I've become increasingly fascinated with and sympathetic towards Jeremy Corbyn and I'd love to meet the guy.

Do you think Corbyn will like it?
I think Jeremy and Diane will—maybe not today, but soon—be very grateful that we immortalized potentially mythological aspects to their youth. I don't know them personally, but I'd like to think they have a sense of humor.

Follow Amelia Dimoldenberg on Twitter.

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