Five highly-skilled multi-instrumental musicians with fine singing voices and excellent comic timing. It’s just not fair. Mere mortals like me who aspire to perform gaze in wonder. Everyone else just sits back and enjoys it, of course. As did the audience at HOME who gave Släpstick a standing ovation at the end. They should get that every night.
Back in the day, before HOME was created by the amalgamation of the Library Theatre and the Cornerhouse Cinema, the theatre ecology in Manchester was much simpler. At Christmas, the privately-owned Palace and Opera House did a panto and a big show, the Royal Exchange staged a suitably festive show for adults, and the Library put on a family show that wasn’t a pantomime, more usually an adaptation of a children’s book like Charlotte’s Web.
The world has changed. The remit given to HOME was to be more European in its programming and since its first Christmas play for families in 2015, Inkheart (a poorly-received production of a German Young Adult novel), they’ve looked for alternative adult material. Släpstick absolutely fits the bill. HOME chief executive Dave Moutrey saw them in Edinburgh last year and booked them immediately.
It’s clever and subtle. They use video to great effect, particularly in a Laurel and Hardy impersonation that mirrors exactly the dance the famous duo are doing on the screen at the back. There’s a brilliant running gag in which they sing acapella version of classic American songs in German. Believe me, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head is a completely different song. And of course, in the first few moments you’re not sure what they’re singing, then the penny drops to hilarious effect.
This is a guaranteed great night out and you don’t get many of those. On the night I saw it, there were children aged under 12 in the audience and they were enjoying themselves, but I doubt that they were getting the whole show as it has too many cultural references for that to be possible. Which brings me back to the theatre ecology in Manchester.
There’s plenty of work for two to seven-year-olds. HOME currently has White on in the studio, which is a piece of genius. Meanwhile, Waterside in Sale has Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas, Hope Mill has Contact Theatre’s The Forest of Forgotten Discos and the Exchange Studio has Little Angel’s Sleepy Head. There is no work for the seven to 11-year-olds. Given venues’ need to identify and satisfy an audience, I think this pattern is likely to stick. Perhaps the opening of the 1,500-seat Factory, home to Manchester International Festival, will change that? I doubt it, though. But when it opens, Manchester will have more than 10,000 theatre seats to fill every night, so something will have to change.
By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor