No Fame, No Gain
Andrew Burnet assesses value for money among big name cabaret shows.
For a mere six pounds you can see motorbikes. bodies. Doric pillars and sparks ﬂy at the Archaos big top. For around the same price. one person stands behind a microphone and tries to make you laugh. ls it worth it?
There‘s no doubt some stand-ups can make a good deal of money while incurring minimal overheads; but little account is taken ofthe years of being ignored or heckled mercilessly at obscure venues in dark corners of Leeds. or the hours spent scratching the head for new ideas. And I'm afraid market forces weren‘t invented by Mrs Thatcher. lf shows sell out. why should these performers work for less? The real question is whether the shows themselves deserve to sell out. or whether tickets go simply on the strength of a popular name.
Simon Fanshawe won this year‘s Perrier award (see below) with Special Edition. a show which exploits both his ability to be topical and his cheeky gregariousness. The Assembly Rooms‘ intimate Wildman Room serves him well. allowing him to single out audience members without undue intimidation. Up-to-the-minute political satire is ofcourse both difficult and popular. but Fanshawe‘s real success is down to the energetic. good-natured tomfoolery and sharp wit which characterize his act on a good night.
has unluckily been slotted into the Assembly Rooms’ schedule at noon. He overcomes the inherent disadvantage ofdaytime cabaret almost immediately. because he is a performer of tremendous poise. who controls his audience with hard stares and worrying silences. Though his act is entirely unique and distinctive. an eclectic series ofcomparisons might be made. from Ivor Cutler to David Byrne. taking in Billy Bragg and John Cooper Clarke along the way. Can I Come Down Now, Dad? may mark his break into serious comic stardom.
Last year‘s Perrier winner Jeremy Hardy is a very likeable bloke who smiles a lot. which is as much a part of his appeal as his political commitment or his intelligent humour. There are no gimmicks. which the brave experiments of others this year have shown to be wise. The same is true of the previous Perrier winner. Arnold Brown. whose deceptively barbed ironies are served up with a sly but altogether amiable
John Sparkes (reviewed last issue) will rightly remain among the premier league for a while yet. with his poeketful of lovably unlovable characters; as will the unlovely Doug Anthony Allstars. who confirm the British fetish for masochism by insulting and degrading their audience in more ways than are readily imaginable. Charming their harmonies may be, but thieving clothes from the back of an audience member just isn‘t done in the mother country, boys. Seriously though. irreverence. irrelevance and irrational audience hatred combine to make Love Frenzy a real beaut of a show.
But at £7. the dearest — and most lavishly camp — show in this category is Julian Clary‘s Mincing Machine. (run sadly finished). which packed the 604-seat Music Hall at the Assembly Rooms. Pretty as a primrose. prim as a pikeshaft. Julian and his talented musical cohorts gave a performance dripping with innuendo and sarcasm and thankfully free of Rushdie humour. We laughed and clapped as one. though the songs didn‘t quite provide the climax they should.
And did we get our money‘s worth? Does the Pope have a catholic sense of humour? See who sells well next year and find out.
I Simon Fanshawe’s Special Edition (Fringe) Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) 226 2428. until 2 Sept. 10.15pm.£5.50(£4.50).
I Can I Come Down Now, Dad? (Fringe) John Hegley. Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) 226 2428, until 2 Sept. noon. £4.50 (£3.50).
I Jeremy Hardy (Fringe) Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) 226 2428. until 2 Sept. 10pm. £5.50 (£3.50).
I Arnold Brown (Fringe) Gilded Balloon (Venue 38) 226 2151, until 2 Sept, 8.15pm, £4 (£3.50).
I John Sparkes (Fringe) Gilded Balloon (Venue 38) 226 2151 . until 2 Sept. 10pm. £4.50 (£3.50). I Love Frenzy (Fringe) Doug Anthony Allstars. George Square Theatre. until 31 Aug. 8.15pm. £6 (£4).
Reviewing The Revues
Wes Shrum takes his medicine at this year’s student revues.
This year‘s Fringe presents six university groups employing a range of revue techniques. The difference in quality is enormous. Since it is difficult. and possibly unfair. to compare these groups with the legendary revues of the past. we undertake the equally unfair. but much less dificult. task ofcomparing them with each other. At the top ofthe list. without question. is Satanic Nurses by Durham University. This group ofeight performers. backed by a four-piece band. run the gamut oftraditional topics from dating and driving to science interviews. philosphical conundrums. and inebriated vicars. Sketches are linked with no fewer than seven original or adapted songs (Latin. rap. blues. and show tunes) — many quite funny. For one precise hour. Durham reminds you what university revues are supposed to be — clever. energetic. and diversionary. The University of Chicago group Off-Off
. Campus comes second. with an entirely different mix. It is the most variable ofthe lot from night to night. since it is based on improvisational comedy. A rule for a sketch is given (cg. each response must begin with the next letter of the
12'I‘he List 1— 14 September 1989
Durham University Revue
alphabet). and the audience is asked to name a location (eg the Rangers‘ locker room). This risky business can go flat. but when these players get it going. one is amazed at their speed and teamwork. The allusions. ofcourse. are occasionally lost on the British audience.
In spite of its name. The Enema Within by the National Health Theatre Company merits inclusion as a top revue. As you might expect it is a satire on Thatcher‘s attempts to privatize health care. This results in the only ‘theatrical‘ revue of the bunch. complemented by four slick songs. In a hospital with one bed. shared by a working-class man and an upper-class woman. some very funny battles between a cost-cutting administrator. a committed doctor. and his humbling houseman take place. Apart from one scene. which degenerates into obscene rectal examinations and appears to have been tacked on for the sake of a different ‘tradition‘. this
production is ofa high standard.
For the other three shows. the admission fee is exploitation. They would do better to take some risks with the improvisational format and seek some overdue rejuvenation. Oxford Revue 1989 attempts an end-of—the-world murder mystery. This device allows them to claim they are the most successful theatre company in existence. but the converse would be more to the point. The audience was sorely pressed to sit through ‘Who shall we eat now?’ skits. and the only redeeming feature of the show was a gentleman with a remarkable talent for impersonating weaponry.
Lancaster‘s Socks and Violence was plagued by one of those audiences which fail to laugh at the first few jokes and then are embarrassed to begin even when they find something funny. which was rare. The lesson to be learned from this group's failings is that a cappella is inadvisable — a catchy soundtrack can cover up a lot.
Cambridge Footlights are simply an embarrassment. Deft mugging cannot conceal a complete absence of material. Even in a panto as witless as Jack and the Lentil Stalk. a shout can usually be mustered from the audience. Alas. all that is left of the great Footlights is spiffy tailoring.
I Oxiord Revue 89 (Fringe) 'I'ie 'I‘oc at Marco's (Venue 98) 229 7898. until 2 Sept. 10.30pm. £4.50 (£3.50).
I Socks and Violence (Fringe) Lancaster University. Tic Toc at Marco's (Venue 98) 229 7898. until 2 Sept. midnight. £2.50 (£2).
I Back And Beyond (Fringe) Cambridge Footlights. Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550. until ZSept. ll.35pm.£4.50(£3.50).
()ther runs finished.