Long before Armando Iannucci was the telly satirist behind squirm-inducingly accurate gems like The Thick of It and The Day Todayhe was a postgrad student, dutifully ploughing his way through a thesis on 17th-century religious literature. He ditched the DPhil in favour of a comedy career. But now, his swotty side is back with a vengeance – and more’s the pity. His debut play Pandemonium is a Covid-era political satire that feels miserably ponderous and out of date, even without the cumbersome references to greats like Milton, Pope, and Shakespeare.
Boris Johnson is fatally easy to lampoon: a bloated blonde fish in a barrel, his floundering attempts to manage the pandemic pored over and parodied so incessantly that an original take would be next to impossible. Iannucci gives it a go by putting his ensemble in Puritan garb (think black hose and prim white collars) and getting them to use florid verse to chronicle Johnson’s misdeeds. It doesn’t work. It’s hard enough to make actual 400-year-old jokes land on stage (just look at all those actors fruitlessly thrusting their hips to flag up Shakespeare’s superannuated dick puns). But here, the rhyming couplets fall into an unhappy middle ground: not well-crafted enough to intrigue poetry fans, but certainly not sharp enough to rouse pandemic-weary modern audiences.