‘Hamilton’ and ‘The Apprentice’

in Reviews

Pissed-off Toff reviews two shows – one of them appallingly awful; the other brilliantly awful.

Let’s take a look at two shows, one of them so awful that you really shouldn’t go to it; and the other so awful that you really should see it. I refer, respectively, to Hamilton, the long-running London musical, and The Apprentice, the business-based TV reality show fronted by ‘Lord’ Sugar.

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In general, it is considered a good thing if the reviewer of a show has seen the production in question. But in the case of Hamilton, I happily abandon this convention. A friend of mine has sat through it, and I know from what he told me that it’s PC rubbish. Despite this, it’s a hit with the young, often taken there by parents who can afford the considerable cost of the exercise, and for many months now the queues outside the Victoria Palace theatre have clogged up the pavements not far from where I live. It is most inconvenient.

Alexander Hamilton was a hero of the American revolt against British rule. I don’t know what the storyline of the musical is, nor does it matter. But the general message, according to my friend, is that George III is a doddery old fool and eighteenth-century England a horrible place governed by reactionary aristos, whereas America is the land of freedom, hope, equality, opportunity and – yes – diversity. 

All of which is a pack of barefaced lies. Like the Emperor Commodus in Gladiator, I’m hazy on the details, but I seem to remember that the early American settlers more or less exterminated the native Indians; and weren’t some of them rather keen on slavery, too? Oh, and didn’t the reactionary British abolish slavery before the freedom-loving Americans? But none of that must be allowed to get in the way of the equality-and-diversity narrative, reinforced by a cast which is totally-totally multi-racial.

Some of the dance routines are apparently quite snappy. However, the music is ear-splittingly loud, so you reel out of the theatre with your ears singing; something which doesn’t seem to bother the younger members of the audience, who, if they regularly expose themselves to these noise levels, are surely doing themselves an injury.

Don’t go to this show.

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The Apprentice, on the other hand, is almost inspired in its awfulness; so much so that I was glued to it. The new run of the show has just started (BBC1 at 9pm on Wednesdays), and it’s the same format as before. There are two teams of pushy young would-be entrepreneurs competing against each other in a series of spivvy tasks, while Alan Sugar – flanked by the ‘Baroness’ Karen Brady and a bald accountant type called Claude – presides over the proceedings like a grizzled old dog who’s seen it all before. 

Just as I have a weakness for Burger King’s Whoppers, there’s a part of me that has a sneaking liking for ‘Lord’ Sugar … ‘Lord’ in inverted commas because I just can’t take the title seriously. A friend of mine who worked with him on a corporate deal in the City described him as ‘a chippy cunt’; but I like the way he hasn’t abandoned his Cockney accent and diction, and I like the way that despite his millions, he remains in spirit an unreconstructed barrow-boy.

Indeed, he caused quite a rumpus recently when he said in his usual forthright manner that you would have to be mad, as the owner of a business, to employ a woman of child-bearing age; a view which had the liberal media howling with indignation. But he was making a fair point, viz. that the demands that maternity leave impose on a company often cause havoc, especially in the case of smaller businesses. 

I can think of two examples, both given to me by reasonable, right-thinking friends. One of them is head of a small department in a semi-governmental organisation. A woman in her department went off and had a baby; came back for a few months and then went off and had another one; and then, I think, had a third. The cost, inconvenience and disruption involved were enormous, as was the extra work imposed on this woman’s colleagues in the office. It was clear that she was playing the system shamelessly, but there was nothing that could be done about it. The other friend is the manager of a small food-importing company, and it’s the same story there. Maternity leave, he tells me, is the bane of his life.

Anyhow, back to The Apprentice. In this new series, consisting of 12 episodes, there’s a team of eight boys competing against a team of eight girls. The format dictates that at the end of each episode the winning team goes off and spends the weekend glugging champagne in a posh hotel, whilst the losing team is ritually vilified by Sugar, who then excommunicates one – or occasionally two – of them. At the end of the series there will be just one winner out of the sixteen contestants, and this lucky individual will be handed a cheque for £250,000 and will ascend to business heaven, there to enjoy eternal bliss as a partner of Alan Sugar … who must have accumulated quite a few of these pushy acolytes by now.

In the first episode, broadcast last Wednesday, we find ourselves not in gritty London as usual, but in Cape Town; and what, indeed, is not to like about a foreign trip and the iconic backdrop of Table Mountain? While Sugar’s two legates look on, clipboard in hand and disapproving frown at the ready, the two teams get going with the business ventures they have dreamed up. The boys’ team attempts to organise and sell a safari day-trip, and the girls’ team sets about organising and selling a day-trip to a winery. And what a bunch of spivs and chancers they are … the boys with sharp suits and sharper haircuts, and the girls their female equivalents, though not without a certain tarty sex-appeal.

After both teams have hurriedly concocted a business plan, they round up innocent punters by approaching members of the public in the streets and hustling, bullying and blagging their way to a sale. The sales-pitch of the boys is frankly fraudulent, since they ‘guarantee’ that their victims will see all five of the so-called ‘big five’ beasts on the safari (elephants, hippos and I’ve  forgotten what the other three are) … whereas sightings of these free-roaming animals cannot be guaranteed, especially on a short excursion. The girls, similarly frantic and unscrupulous, make a different mistake. Having initially sold a few tickets at a top-of-the-range price, they then sell the rest at a deep discount, thus ensuring discontent among their customers, who will inevitably compare notes.

Then the tours are off, with both teams hopelessly ill-prepared, winging it as they go. One of the boys takes it on himself to act as entertainer. “Ooooh! Isn’t this fun!!” he witters into the microphone on the bus, his flapping hands the very embodiment of camp. And when the girls get to their winery, the prattle of their own guide is similarly inane. “Well, what can I say? This is it! What you see is what you get,” she announces (or words to this effect). The poor customers are then dragged all round the winery in search of the room where the tasting is to take place; because of course the girls haven’t got a clue where it is.

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Back in London Town, the two teams meet up with Alan Sugar in his boardroom, where everyone simpers fawningly over the feeblest of his quips and where the camera focuses with noticeable frequency on one of the more tarty girls with heavily painted eyebrows. Despite the fact that the girls’ team had to give refunds to various discontented punters, they win by a narrow margin and return to their living quarters with yelps of joy and many an OMG. Whereas the boys are filmed drinking tea disconsolately in the Bridge Café, where they ruminate over the nature of failure.

In the final scenes, the losing team of eight boys is once more assembled in Sugar’s boardroom in order to be eviscerated by him. “Don’t sound too good, does it?” comments the noble lord, reviewing the farce that took place in Cape Town. Now it’s every boy for himself. “My skill-set is around project management,” says one of them, stomach-churningly. Another boy, with slightly Asiatic features and a surprisingly educated accent, manages to retain some dignity. Otherwise, they tear into each other like hyenas, while Sugar looks on with unaccustomed patience. “Let’s try ’n’ ’ave a professional discussion,” he says at some stage; this despite the fact that any semblance of ‘professionalism’ was surely lost long ago, if ever it was there in the first place. Then three of the spivs are kept back; one of them is cast out; and the other two are spared, their last words being “Yes, Lord Sugar” and “Thank you, Lord Sugar.” Grovel, grovel! Lick, lick!!

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As has been aptly said elsewhere, the contestants on this show are ‘jaw-droppingly awful’ … but as entertainment, the show is a masterpiece. 

And there’s another thing. When we are subjected on a daily basis to the horrors of Brexit, to the repulsive absurdities of the ‘trans’ movement, to the virtue-signalling of the vegan lobby, to the lunatic antics of Extinction Rebellion and to the eco-doom of that stunted little ice-maiden Greta Thunberg … when this is what we have to put up with, at greater and greater cost to our sanity, The Apprentice offers an escape that is ever more welcome. 

So perhaps after all … and I never thought I’d say this … thank you, Lord Sugar.

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