Preview – The Goon Show tour

The Apollo Theatre Company is bringing to life The Goon Show, coinciding with the 100thanniversary of its creator and main writer’s birth, Spike Milligan.

Tim Astley, artistic director, promises it will be like being in the audience for an original recording of the show, which ran from 1951-1960. This is a tantalising offer for those of us who discovered the magic of the Goons only after they were all but over. I say ‘all but’ as there was one last hurrah in 1972 when the BBC produced The Last Goon Show of All as part of its 50thanniversary celebrations. And even that is too distant for many people today to remember.

Milligan effectively invented alternative comedy with the surreal, hilarious and anarchic world of the Goons. It was like nothing that had gone before and it owned its take on the world throughout its run, the nearest thing to it not coming until Monty Python in 1969.

But analysis is often the death of comedy so it was a joy to see from the extracts presented at the press launch that we can expect nothing more or less than a faithful capturing of the Goon Show as we know it from the recordings. The talented cast have the unenviable task of taking on roles created by comedy giants Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe but it looks like they are more than up to the job with the show coming as it does from the same stable that brought to life Round the Horne, which played to critical acclaim a couple of years ago. At the launch I particularly enjoyed hearing Neddie Seagoon, Minnie Bannister and the famous Eccles, amongst others. In conversation with some of the cast afterwards it was clear they share a passion for classic comedy, and this underpins their performances.

The Goon Show is still broadcast every week on Radio 4 Extra. Try one and you’ll find they have stood the test of time remarkably well. Partly this is because their starting point is the classic comedy theme of a healthy disrespect for all types of establishment – especially parliament, army officers and the BBC itself. Biting the hand that feeds you was not something that worried Milligan and it is a credit to the Beeb that it allowed the Goon Show to flourish even within the confines of ostensibly a light entertainment/variety format.

I must also mention what a privilege it was at the launch to hear from Norma Farnes, Spike Milligan’s agent, and so a rare direct link with a true comedy genius.

This new production tours from September 2018.

Review – I Occur Here

I Occur Here describes itself as a devised physical theatre piece – which may send warning signs to some – but The Space is a venue which encourages and understands originality and this in turn should encourage confidence in those who attend to be willing to try out new things.

Devised and conceived by Mariana Aristizabal and Malena Arucci, the play avoids conventional narrative structure, but nonetheless is the story of four young migrants, each of whom is on a journey, leaving all they know behind but driven by the desire to belong somewhere else.

As we enter,  the four members of the cast are already on the move, travelling in circles around a circle of apparently abandoned clothes on the floor. As they each begin their story they hurriedly put and then take off various items of clothing from the floor, seemingly searching for an identity with which they feel comfortable. An unseen voice announces that there are four different types of journey: searcher, escaper, mover and ousted.

I was expecting each of the four characters to manifest the different journey types more clearly than was apparent, at least to me. But the stories gradually emerged. Theatre of this type invariably requires just a little more commitment from the audience. It’s natural to look for patterns and structure and often in devised pieces they just aren’t there. The organic creation process doesn’t lend itself to such regimentation. But at just 45 minutes this is the ideal length for such a free-form piece.

The international cast – Daniela Cristo Mantilla, Nathalie Czarnecki, Santiago Del Fosco and Hanna Winter – imbue the piece with energy and passion whilst allowing us insight into the impact of moving has on the people they used to be and the people their new homes make them become. These are a not fully explored characters – time alone prevents that – but they do seem genuine and credible.

It’s a different experience but The Space is always welcoming and the Hubbub bar and cafe completes the experience nicely!

I Occur Here is at The Space until 18 August 2018.


Review – Strictly Ballroom

Strictly Ballroom centres on Scott Hastings, played by Jonny Labey, a talented ballroom dancer who wants to break free of the rules of Australian ballroom dance competitions and dance his own steps. His dance partner knows that if he persists in breaking the rules they can’t win the competition, so he finds himself partnerless. Into the void steps mousey and insecure Fran (‘just Fran’) – the estimable Zizi Strallen – who, not so gradually, turns from an unnoticed wallflower at the dance studio where he trains into a stunningly talented dancer, as they storm their way through the competition finale and into each others’ hearts.

Just joining the show this week as the MC is Matt Cardle. He’s previously starred in the musical Memphis and will be known to many for winning the X factor (in 2010). He brought an easy and winning charm to his role as the narrator with, to my ears, a convincing Aussie accent. He also sings beautifully. And as this is a juke box musical he gets to test himself against a variety of song styles because, unusually, the cast don’t get to sing much themselves. Songs generally appear to accompany dance lessons or competition rounds, so the main cast do the dancing and Mr Cardle does the singing.

Jonny Labey as Scott is serious and convincing in his desire to dance. Not only that, his dancing skills are first class. Zizi Strallen is just so watchable and handles the transformation from inelegant ducking to dancing swan with style.

Performances from the supporting cast a generally broad and played for laughs whenever possible. Anna Francolini as Shirley, Scott’s mum, in particular has a ball. And Gerard Horan (who you may recognise from the brilliant TV comedy The Detectorists) dons a magnificent blonde wig to play the king of Aussie ballroom, keeper of the rules and Scott’s nemesis, Barry Fife, as if to the manor born.

Whilst the show has elements of Dirty Dancing in its story, it seems to be going all-out for a Mamma Mia vibe. And in my view, succeeding magnificently. It is huge fun and because it’s centred on dancing there is little need to shoe-horn songs in that tell the story or illuminate the characters – although some succeed in doing both.

The finale to Act One is a brilliant dance number and my only complaint is that I was expecting something to top that at the end of the show and felt short-changed by a conclusion that seemed a little hurried. But this is a small issue in a good-hearted and fun-filled show.

Sue in the Stalls attended courtesy of London Box Office. Strictly Ballroom is at London’s Piccadilly theatre, booking until October 2018.

Review – Club Swizzle

Club Swizzle is a contemporary take on the cabaret of the Weimar Republic, about which we’ve recently learned so much thanks to Barry Humphries’ recent show at the Barbican.

This isn’t a piece of theatre to come and just watch. It’s a party with added entertainment. Get their early (the cast do) and enjoy a drink or two at the bar, which later becomes the stage. Then enjoy another drink or two in the interval, as you’re encouraged to do by the outrageously camp MC Rueben Kaye. Part Sally Bowles, part Julian Clary and nearly all sequins, this, he says, is what you get if your parents say you can be whatever you want to be!

His introduction sets the tone for what is to follow – daring, dangerous, raunchy, funny and rude (a bit too sweary for my taste at times, I admit). The evening consists of a series of ‘turns’ provided by a talented and energetic troupe, accompanied by a punchy and lively four-piece band – although you’d think there were more from the impressive sound they make.

The Swizzle Boys are acrobats, literally jumping through hoops to entertain you. Laurie Hagen does a brilliantly funny turn as a drunk stripper who stumbles onto the stage, chaotically tripping herself up and ending up almost accidentally removing parts of her outfit, for example getting her stiletto heel caught in her stocking. Yamnel Rodriguez exudes style and class in her aerial act. And Dandy Wellington – a band leader from Harlem – recreates the jazz age with his super-energetic singing and dancing.

The only number I recognised in the evening was sung by our MC Reuben at the end (One for My Baby) and I’d loved to have heard his take on another standard or two.

All the acts are at the top of their field, demonstrating technical excellence, precision, humour and great stagecraft. It’s a great night out which I imagine would work well for groups – as long as they’re fairly broad minded! And you can get in for as little as a tenner to see world class performers at the top of their game.

Club Swizzle is at London’s Roundhouse until 26 August 2018. Sue in the Stalls attended courtesy of London Box Office.