Obama on my Mind @ Hen and Chickens, London

cast list
Ellen Verenieks, Nicholas Drake, Kay Milborne, Rhys Owen, Rian Perle, Simone McIntyre, Jackie Skarvellis, Christopher Dingli, Victoria Croft, Jamie McMillan, Lauren Appleby

directed by
Tim McArthur
When Teddy Hayes first made a music video for YouTube called I’m Voting For Obama during last year’s presidential campaign, he had no idea where it would lead.

In the event, he came into contact with workers for the Obama campaign in London and some ‘very interesting and amusing characters.’

So, when it was suggested that little comedic material surrounded the Obama campaign, to Hayes the ‘solution’ was clear.

Obama himself may have lacked sufficient comedy potential, but plenty lay within the type of people who got involved in American political campaigns, and so Obama on my Mind was born.
With eleven actors and fifteen songs, the musical tells of the shenanigans in a local campaign office, somewhere in America. It starts one week after the 2008 Republican Convention when John McCain, with his new running mate Sarah Palin, enjoys a healthy lead in the polls, and takes us through to polling day.

In portraying the comings and goings of the people in the office, Hayes reveals the type of people he encountered in his travels and provides some interesting insights into human nature. There are colourful characters including Mary (Jackie Skarvellis) who since suffering a ‘political breakdown’ has been retained in a senior position but not allowed to go near anyone important; Valerie (Kay Milborne) whose judgements are based on spiritual vibes; Curtis (Rhys Owen) who will do anything to elevate himself; Frances (Ellen Verenieks) who is a ‘perfect organiser’, and Roxanne (Lauren Appleby) who proves to be a Republican mole.

There were times when the overall pace needed to be quicker to drive the humour home, and often we weren’t sufficiently exposed to the wider context in which this campaign office drama was unfolding. The show started strongly with a comedy number, Piggy with a Lipstick, in which Sarah Palin danced around dressed as a pig with a gun in her bible. After this, however, though we heard of local events that occurred outside of this one room, the national campaign was seldom reported on.

But the show was strong on characterisation. This was no better illustrated than in a song in which Frank (Rian Perle) and Charlie (Jamie MacMillan) both explained their reasons for, and fears associated with, voting for Obama. The fact that both declared they had their doubts about voting for a ‘Negro’ meant that this show was not scared to expose the distasteful thoughts that can exist in people’s heads, even when they don’t want them to. The over-riding argument, however, was that millions did pin their hopes on Obama for a wide variety of reasons.

Though not all of the music was memorable, several songs were particularly funny. Mary’s rendition of Obama and Me saw four men dance around her wearing creepily realistic Obama masks, whilst Victoria Croft as Martha gave a brilliant rendition of Telephone Call in which she demonstrated how a simple electioneering phone call could be made most persuasive and most seductive! Certainly, by the end, I doubt there was a single audience member who didn’t emerge singing the catchy title song to themselves.

Indeed, when perhaps in a few years time the official (and heavily vetted) Obama musical hits Broadway or the West End, I know I’ll look back and recall the first show on the subject. It said what it wanted to say, uninhibited, and incidentally was highly entertaining in the process.

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