Binge Fringe Magazine

INTERVIEW: A Digital Pint with… Joe Venable, Counting on Your Vote as he puts on ‘Rishi Sunak’s Doing A Musical’

Rishi Sunak stunned the nation by calling an early election. What made him do it? Joe Venable and Rob Gathercole think they have found the answer – and it might surprise you. He’s been putting together a musical for the upcoming Summer Fringe Season!

Promising a riotous romp through the 2024 election campaign, the pair have hastily put together an ensemble cast to play – among fictionalised versions of the writers themselves – Keir Starmer, Liz Truss, and the ghost of Jeremy Corbyn. The show took to the stage at Waterloo East Theatre last night, and we managed to catch up with Joe to talk Politics, Greek Tragedy, and Muddy Screwdrivers.

You can catch Rishi Sunak’s Doing A Musical at Waterloo East Theatre until Saturday at 7:30pm. Tickets are available through the venue’s online box office.

Jake: Hi Joe! Tell us about what you’ve been up to since we saw Jingle Street at EdFringe last year.

Joe: I’ve been zapping about with all sorts of odd projects – a benevolent radio host gave me a weekly slot on BBC Radio Solent, writing funny songs for listeners, which kept me shod for a few months. Plus I started work on a two-hander about an elderly couple getting divorced, called The Last Forty-Five Years, which is probably a bad idea but nobody can stop me.

And then my first Fringe show On Your Bike was performed in both Poland and Switzerland, which was a little bit mind-boggling – to think that people hundreds of miles away are watching something you wrote in a basement in Gloucestershire. The highlight was that a group of Polish ten-year-olds went to see it on a school trip and they all wrote reviews, which were published online. Quite bruising actually.

Jake: Tell us about the moment when you and your co-writer decided there needed to be a Rishi Sunak musical.

Joe: There was something deeply filmic about Rishi Sunak announcing the election in the rain – a man all alone, who has refused to heed sound forecasts, getting battered by the ferocity of nature. Certain Greek tragedies sprung to mind. But then he’s also a comic character – the fabulously awkward billionaire who once asked a homeless man if he worked in finance – and a villain of course, stripping away disability benefits and deporting asylum seekers. It felt like there was something to unpick.

Me and Rob wanted to make a political musical, but we didn’t want to just write an hour of sketches and send-ups – we aren’t really clever enough. So we started imagining a desperate Rishi Sunak turning to musical theatre to boost himself in the polls. He accidentally hires writers who hate him, and suddenly you have this delightful tension that allows you into all sorts of absurd places. Which is fitting for our current politics, really.

Jake: There’s some poetry to the fact that the show’s run will carry over the election results themselves – what are you hoping audiences take away from the show and what are you aiming to do in putting it on now?

Joe: I hope there’s some value in coming together after fourteen years of Tory vandalism and laying out what’s happened in a very clear way. It is bonkers to me how far our country has come from the functioning NHS, care and education systems we had under Brown. And I hope it makes us more likely to remember what these people did, and to try and pick politicians in future who are more thoughtful and less self-serving.

But the show also veers off politics and asks some more unusual questions – about the value of satire, for instance, or whether AI is going to put writers out for a job. Our aim was to spin the political core out into an unpredictable, unique show, where audiences are surprised and a little disoriented, but never go long without a proper toe-tapping song.

Jake: Now that we’re gearing up for Fringe season, what are you most excited to see in the coming months?

Joe: It’s always the weird stuff for me: there’s a musical called CRISPR, about gene editing, that I’m absolutely dying to see in Edinburgh. Equally, a biography of the sociologist Hannah Gavron called The Edge Of Time, and the Silence of the Lambs parody musical SILENCE! both sound unmissable.

And I’m based in Cambridge, which means I know Lily Blundell’s The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Murdered and Ariella Gordon’s Ctrl+Alt+Deceit! will be fabulous, as well as VEGAS by Alice Roberts and Louis Hadfield. Too much to choose from really!

Jake: Fitting with the themes of our magazine, if your show was an alcoholic beverage (think cocktails, shots, beers, be creative!) what would it be?

Joe: As a child, I loved a drink called muddy puddle (not alcoholic, I should stress), where you mixed Pepsi and orange juice into an ugly brown concoction. If you added a shot of vodka to that (muddy screwdriver?) I think it would be Rishi Sunak’s Doing A Musical! – an unlikely combination you might expect to be unpleasant, but that will in fact leave you thrilled and invigorated.

Image Credit: Alice Mayer

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2024), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023-24), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them