NEVER TRY THIS AT HOME Birmingham Rep & touring

PIES, PRATFALLS AND POLE-DANCING:  SATURDAYS AND THE SEVENTIES

(NOT A CHILDREN’S SHOW…BEWARE..)

  Oh, the wicked 1970’s!    Sexist, racist, rapist:  gropey DJs in the Beeb,  paedophile apologists in the NCCL,  bad hair and worse flares.  Retrospective headshaking is everywhere, so with oblique mischief  Carl Grose and Told By An Idiot target another  ‘70s phenomenon:  TISWAS and Swap Shop. Mercifully too late for me and too early for my children,  this was the time when the new wave of exhausted two-job parents slept in on Saturday morning while children’s TV found a fresh style: anarchic,  larky, improvised, exuberant, messy, calculatedly irresponsible.    An essay in the programme speaks of countercultural social currents; Grose and director Paul Hunter just remember the custard pies, japes and grown-up pseudo-toddlers (“Now it’s time to RUN ABOUT! yaaay”)

    We are supposed to be a modern studio audience at a show called “Looking Back  – together” : like Radio 4’s The Reunion,  only with Niall Ashdown  as a sweatily pompous host instead of  Sue MacGregor.   He interviews former presenters and producer of a fictional show called SHUSHI,   famous for its “Kick a Vicar”  and “Look Out It’s The Pie-R-A”  gags.   We learn that it was taken off air after a disastrous edition in which the token female presenter snapped, stripped, rubbed baked beans on her body and promised onscreen suicide “Right after we’ve heard – Phil Collins!”.

       The interviews are interspersed with re-enactments of bygone rows inside the cast  and  “archive video” of SHUSHI  performed live by Stephen Harper, Dudley Rees, Ged Simmons and that most peerless of clowns, Petra Massey of Spymonkey.    In the flashbacks she is the show’s token totty,  introduced with a leering “something for the Dads”,  landed with duff segments like Make Your Own Dog,  and fed unspeakable things blindfold.   Harper  protests,  “If it was illegal in the 70s for a man repeatedly to hit a woman with a rubber mallet against her will, half the men in England would be in prison”.   Good gag.

          Okorie Chukwu plays an obsessed ex-child-fan, persistently humiliated,  until he and his barmy pole-dancing mother (also Massey, always up for an upside-down slither)  attempt an armed kidnap of Harper to demand that he be let to sing.   And there’s a nice Noel Edmonds parody (“Exchangeathon”),  as the team deride their rival Saturday show.  Edmonds is Massey again,  sitting at a desk in a fine black beard wittering “It’s going nuts in here!” while desultory phone calls trickle in. 

       So a lot of laughs:  sharp digs at 70‘s male stars keen to drive a status-y “Sunflower Yellow Testarossa”,   and lovely physical gags like the ultimate chaotic  pie-fight being repeated in slo-mo.  But it needs a better climax,  since the disastrous edition is the first thing we see.  It isn’t as fine-tuned as most of Hunter’s work (or indeed Spymonkey’s).     Nor do we need the Korean Butler gag.  But maybe that’s a fiendishly cunning internal joke: not unlike TISWAS  this gang can’t resist a diversionary lark.   And nobody with a heart and eyes can resist Petra Massey.

box office  0121 236 4455   birmingham-rep.co.uk   to 15 March  
then TOURING  Sheffield, Edinburgh, Soho   –  to 26 April     Touring Mouse wide

Rating:  three   3 Meece Rating

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