Stagecraft: Book: Performance:
This is a well known show with a huge following. The queue of mainly young people snaked around the block. You can tell there is a huge committed fan base in the audience as people are whooping amongst the excited hubbub before they even begin. The band, dressed in black to one side of the stage, warmed up the atmosphere as we waited for the cast members to come on stage. The small group of actors, all male except for one, dressed in their all-American jeans and different coloured shirts, leapt on stage in exuberant fashion. The whoops went up from the crowd as they knew they were in for a roller-coaster rollicking treat of a show.
As is their tradition, they ask the audience members to call out a random selection of possible names for them to create a musical to entertain us for the next hour. They choose the first one they can hear from the many that are offered, and off they go. They must have supreme confidence that they can take any subject matter and twist and bend it in their minds, quickly chew it over as a team and spit it back out into the audience. An unflattering comparison perhaps. To be more apt, they take seemingly random ingredients and cook them up to deliver a curiously delightful buffet of hilarity. Although they are an American cast, we Brits have all been fed well enough on a steady diet of sitcoms, iconic Mafia movies and cheerful musicals to recognise all of their send ups and innuendos.
The bones of the show are already so familiar to the audience, with the expected structure of a musical embedded into our unconscious, with all its cliches, romantic moments and spotlight songs of angst with a bizarre backdrop of chorus members. Never as odd as a random collection of condiments gather together in the delicatessen to offer advice, all with their own colourful personalities. The lines from Southern ‘Mustard don’t lie’, the camp ‘Catsup do’, and poor old laughable ‘Vegemite’, which is always a tough sell to non-Australians, had everyone in stitches.
They also know how to push the boundaries. Antics with Buttercup the horse at breeding time, ends up as a horse gang bang, complete with ridiculous facial expressions and body movements. Who knew miming fellating a horse would provoke such hysteria in the audience? The slapstick of the most chubby guy trying to ride away on a horse had everyone in stitches, especially as he picked on the smallest guy to be the horse. And kept falling off while he was singing which made it even funnier. We are completely subject to the uncensored impulses of the group and no one has any idea where it’s going to lead until it cleverly all weaves together into a satisfying conclusion to suit storytelling convention.
Watching live theatre is always a little tense, and watching entirely unscripted theatre is even more so, as everyone is expecting a ball or two to drop and the intense energy to suddenly dissipate. Because of course that is a distinct possibility. But it never happens. There are moments when the absurdity of what they are doing strikes one of them and they have to pull back a laugh before it gets out of hand and the deck of cards falls down.There must be an element of wanting to upstage the others, in playful manner, but also having to build on what the other cast members have already laid down for you. They all look like they love what they are doing, and the audience loves them back equally.
The songs themselves were artfully constructed, if extremely bizarre. They never faltered in finding a rhyme, just in time. Even if it was ‘job’ and ‘slob’ it always fit the story. Who else could integrate the line ‘I wanna sample your meats’ into a song of seduction? The one female cast member had an amazing soulful voice that would hold its own in any Broadway number. The song that stood out the most was the gang leader’s hip hop inspired number, with Elmo style vocals, if you can imagine that. Its pure craziness received the most amount of spontaneous applause.
You wonder how on earth they manage to pull this off together along with the band, as they don’t discuss anything verbally with each other. The band were also hugely talented in their own right, as they were able to provide the back up needed at exactly the right moment. They must have had some kind of non-verbal cues imperceptible to the audience. At times, to clarify the plot to us and to each other, they would repeat an important plot line in song, to give themselves enough time and direction to keep it all blasting along at top speed. It made the hour go extremely quickly, as they kept us on a knife-edge of anticipation throughout the entire show. It managed to be enlivening and invigorating instead of exhausting, however. You could conceivably easily go every night as it is going to be completely different each time. If I could afford it, I probably would, purely to laugh myself stupid while witnessing the range of their insane imaginations.
Reviewer : Lisa Williams