If you are an audience member for this production, then you will also form part of a studio audience, of a spoof chat show, headed by a TV host with a journalistic approach, and not of the nicest class, expertly stereo typified by Niall Ashdown (London’s Comedy Store) . We pretend that TV cameras are to the left, right, and centre, and that an episode of the show is being recorded. This episode is taking a look back in time at a riotous Saturday morning show for children called SHUSHI. Fictitious, of course, but consciously animating the real life TISWAS the ATV Birmingham programme, first aired in 1974.
For almost the whole 90 minutes the stage remains the setting for the chat show, with the Host either conducting one to one interviews in front of the closed curtain, or he is sitting to the side, and the stage is a pretend projection screen which is showing ‘clips’ from the archives of past SHUSHI shows. Action can be stopped, slowed down, fast forwarded, or rewound, which is extremely amusing when the players are seemingly sent into these modes. A rival show whose title includes the word Exchange (sorry, can’t recall the full title) also features, and is an obvious send up of Noel Edmonds/Keith Chegwin and BBC’s Multi-coloured Swap Shop; the more sedate viewing option on a Saturday morning in the 1970s ; a much tamer affair altogether.
I have supplied an outline in two paragraphs. And, after observing audience response last night, I ask myself – ‘What does an audience expect when they go to see a show like this one?’ I witnessed many middle aged people, myself included, and men particularly, giggling and laughing. Likewise a few older people around me barely raised a smile. Some comments I overheard made me think there was confusion which made me question whether the play is truly accessible to all; one gent took real umbrage and was obviously confused by the set up taking it completely out of context – Ashdown dealt with the interjection professionally. I don’t think it was planned.
Admittedly, there is some challenging content, with the humour darkening at times, some scatological scenes, and racist and sexist behaviour portrayed, but one should not be offended as the play never loses its sense of humour and we shouldn’t do either.
The Never Try This At Home ensemble remains true to the Told by an Idiot formula, combining realism and witty word play with great expressiveness in a physical sense for comedy. I enjoyed the performances, once again, by Stephen Harper and Ged Simmons, who were both cast members of We Love You City (a show I reviewed back in Coventry in the spring of 2012), and I noted the versatility too of Okorie Chukwu and Dudley Rees and their superb comic timing – hope to see them again. Petra Massey, the only girl cast, and a top girl, puts in a wonderful physical performance, displaying a little bit of the Cirque du Soleil – and she can really do funny, loved her!
A welcome inclusion were pupils from the Holyhead Academy School, Handsworth who performed a soulful introduction, and appeared again later on, just as pop stars would have slotted into the format of a live TV programme back in the day.
Note: Reviewer, Debra Hall attended the press night performance of Never Try This At Home in The Studio of Birmingham Repertory Theatre (The Rep) on Monday 3rd March in an official capacity on behalf of Remotegoat Stage. Review also published here