Yesterday was started with the noblest intentions – buy new shoes, go to Kensington and explore the vintage shops there. Unfortunately I rather stymied this by getting up late. But damned if I’m going to waste my Saturday entirely, so I bought my lovely new shoes and headed up to Waterloo.
See, I’m writing a short fantasy story set in a city with heavy elements of 19th century London and Paris, so I thought maybe exploring the Borough would be a good way to get some atmosphere. I took a stroll around, exploring the old, unredeveloped parts of Southwark and the various occult centres (not that I believe in that sort of thing, mark you). I strolled past the Old Vic and was surprised to see someone I was at school with in the cast of Six Degrees of Separation. The chap in question is Ilan Goodman, and if I’m honest we exchanged maybe three sentences during the time we were both at the school, so it’s not like I was about to burst in and cry out “Ilan, old chap!”
Then, in a backstreet, I came across the Union Theatre. This is a strange venue, one of those makeshift little theatres you get in London outside of the West End. You know, used to be something else, the auditorium is painted black and the seats aren’t attached to the floor. I’d been here once before, when a work colleague was in Annie, Get Your Gun! a little while back.
I noted that the posters outside were advertising a show called Oh No It Isn’t!, an adult panto featuring a friend of mine, whom I shall call the Mottster. If I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan of anything that advertises itself as being “not for kids,” as it tends to involve lots of cheap sex jokes in that terribly British fashion. There’s only so many characters with innuendo names like ”Droopy Bumfondler,” “Cocky Arsefucker” or “Cunty Childrapist” I can take before my brain self-lobotomises. But the Mottster is a fine actress, and so I decided I would take my chances.
This is going to make me sound an awful person, but the trouble with knowing a lot of people involved in the theatre is that there are only so many times you can go to a play purely because someone you know is in it. In fact, I now have an official policy which states “No Midsummer Night’s Dream” due to the ridiculous number of times I have seen this show on the basis that someone I know has a minor role in it. I was once in a production of this myself, so I know whereof I speak. I played Bottom, thus meaning that should I ever get back into theatre, I can ask casting directors if they’d like to see my Bottom. There’s one of those cheap jokes I was complaining about.
I digress from my initial digression. I find it very hard to attend every show that someone I know is in, so I tend to restrict it to close friends, major roles or things that a large group of people I know are already attending. If any of you whose shows I have not seen are reading this with a mounting sense of outrage, I would ask you in return to name the last play I was in. Here’s a clue: it’s not one you saw.
Anyway, before I make myself look like an even worse person, I did drop into the box office and purchased a ticket. And Sweet Jesus but they need to do something about those toilets. I’m not sure what that crusty stuff is along the top of the urinal, but it upsets me at a primeval level. The bar was nice, though. As is appropriate to small theatres, it was painted red. The selection of music could not be faulted, and the paintings around the place made for a far more entertaining distraction than the dramaramas and hipsters.
Having no doubt alienated half the theatre scene of London as well as several friends, I should say that I actually quite enjoyed the show. The first half, I thought, spent far too much time trying to cram as many dirty jokes as possible, actually to the point where they cancelled each other out. For instance, if you have a character named “Felchmore,” that’s the joke. He has a name that, if it is appropriate to his character, implies that he greatly enjoys the act of slurping semen from the anus (though whether he is the giver or receiver of this act is outside the scope of his name). If you then have a character saying, “I wish he’d felch less!” and clutching at his buttocks, that’s hammering the joke into the ground.
In the second half, however, the plot really got going and I enjoyed the piece a lot more as it came together. In fact, many of the major plot elements were only established in the second half. I rather got the feeling that by trimming some of the unnecessary comedy routines and subplots that went nowhere from the first half and establishing plot elements and characters from the second half in their place, the piece would have been a lot more balanced. I also think the major theme of the plot, i.e. the modern phenomenon of instant, disposable celebrities spawned by reality TV, could have been more effectively explored – there were some funny jokes and some nice satirical points raised, but dammit I want more.
Script concerns aside, the cast were superb, with not a dud element among them. It’s quite hard to make broad caricatures (as is an essential part of the panto genre) appealing, but nonetheless this was something universally achieved. The panto dames in particular were superbly funny. The design and choreography, too, were hard to fault. All in all, an excellent show aside from the fact that it could have done with fewer jokes. That’s a weird thing to say about a comedy, but it’s true.
Having said that, the other reviews seem to have been pretty good, and the audience were all laughing uproariously throughout, so maybe I’m just boring.