The Horror! The Horror! - The Final Curtain

Mon 4th – Sun 24th August 2014

reviews

Bridey Addison-Child

at 02:03 on 7th Aug 2014

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Alfred Brownlow (Thomas Richards) along with his laddish sidekick, Archie Cox (James Utechin) is a cheeky chappy who runs a variety entertainment show in the 20s. The audience are transported back to Ye Olde days of the Music Hall, and are there for him to entertain. There is everything from puppetry to psychics, magic tricks to song and dance; the fourth wall does not exist in this cheeky musical jaunt. Instead the actors come crashing through it from the moment you enter the room.

Admittedly, this direct style makes the performance feel a little lost at the beginning – I found myself struggling to pick up the premise of the show as Richards launched into his first merry ditty, confidentially raising his eyebrows at the audience and inviting them to join in. Such musical numbers were interspersed with cleverly calculated sketches; rife with innuendo and puns so bad they were almost good, this tongue-in-cheek style just about smoothed over the initial stylistic disquiet.

It became clear, as the performance progressed, that story telling was at the heart of this piece of theatre. Each individual section of the ‘variety show’ told its distinctive story, narrated gleefully by Richards’s ensemble. A particular highlight was Harold Close (played by Jeffrey Mayhew, who also penned the tunes for the show). His foray into the world of an ancient Egyptian legend injected a refreshing dose of dry British wit into an otherwise whimsical show. As the show unfolded, these tales became intertwined with the characters themselves, leading, at last, to some form of plot for the audience to hang onto.

A genuinely engaging scene that enabled this structural move involved Stephanie Walls' portrayal of Cassandra the Psychic. Her spoofy melodramatic performance was light-hearted, until it suddenly became a gripping and chilling narrative within the piece. Despite the potential this scene gave the production, it was let down by the structural confusion that followed - which was unfortunate given the apparent directorial focus on narrative. It was not altogether clear as to what was happening, though the tone change (from lighthearted to more grim) did admittedly add a kind of grisly theatrical impact.

Ultimately, this production was fine for an hour of fun before hitting the pub. But it lacked structural integrity within the plot and needed a little fine polishing if it’s conclusion is to be as hard-hitting as was clearly desired.

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Marnie Langeroodi

at 09:02 on 7th Aug 2014

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Despite the title, the audience settles in for a feel-good musical – one of early 20th century Music Hall nostalgia. Thomas Richards (as Alfred Brownlow) interacts well with the audience to a reception of optimistic chuckles. Songs are framed within the context of the Music Hall and are accompanied by live piano, courtesy of Jeffrey Mayhew.

Richards and James Utechin, playing Archie Cox, exchange good (but not great) dialogue, cheesy one-liners and uninspired wordplay. They repeat comic ‘bits’, which are not all too funny, – not even the first time.

Sex jokes penetrate the lyrics and conversation. While the unsophisticated humour may be part of this musical’s charm, eventually the lack of any startling wit leaves the audience bored and underwhelmed.

The songs – where talk of sex moves to complaints about marriage – are invariably simple and repetitive – a chorus, which at first rouses a small laugh, seems to endlessly echo and eventually fall away. Admittedly, if the audience had sung along, this composition would have worked. Alicia Bennett, who plays Sally Summerill, stands out for her particularly commendable singing ability.

The audience may well be lost in a musical without a plot until a sudden darker turn comes about, and an interesting story eventually unravels. Finally the musical returns to its name. No more feel-good fun. At this point the costume design is particularly effective and vividly evokes Sally’s story.

Stephanie Walls' pantomime-like overacting when playing Cassandra Fay, psychic medium, is intentional and ironic, but tiresome. However, Walls is impressive when she quickly embodies different characters and seamlessly switches between roles.

‘The Horror! The Horror!’ is fine if you’re in a good mood and can will yourself to have a good time. If the plot structure were to be improved this could potentially be an entertaining show. As it stands, I wouldn’t recommend it.

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