Jonny Genet, Sam Beckett and Ant Artaud walk into a bar.
“I’ve got a great idea for a play,” says Genet. “It’s about two blokes who have a sub-dom thing going on, but it’s reversible.”
“Brilliant,” says Beckett. “And it takes place nowhere in particular.”
“Yeah,” piles in Artaud. “And it’s got lots of nudity and torture.”
“Yeah!” they cheer, jigging about to the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen on the jukebox. They start to scribble, but the absinthe gets the better of them and it all ends rather badly.
Fortunately Theo and Albert from Caravan Guys Theatre are at the next table, and the rest, as they say, is history. What they have created is extraordinary. “OMG,” I admit to thinking at the start. “Is this going to be one of those evenings where I need to slip out of the theatre without being noticed, even if I am in the third row and sitting next to one of the actors’ Mum and Dad?” But it wasn’t. It was lit (ask a young person).
To begin with the show appears to be a series of unrelated vignettes, each more shocking than the last (possibly gratuitously so), and then you notice the echoes, the repeats, the references and, by the end, a coherent and thoroughly disturbing story emerges which pulls it all together. It’s clever, nicely acted, and entertaining.
Theo Mason-Wood (who could easily be Sting’s love child) uses his thin, wiry frame – and remarkable stomach muscles – to create our put-upon, mostly naked protagonist, while Albert Haddenham, a more physically robust character altogether and fully dressed which helps, is his master. But as the show progresses these roles shift, and the actors use their physicality to create those changes with great skill. I resist the appellation physical theatre because I no longer know what it means, but if I did this might be it. Whatever it is, it’s one of two really good shows I’ve seen in what has been a fantastic week for important, entertaining and politically and personally useful theatre. There’s a great deal to think about while you’re sat agape, but I won’t demean it by trying to nail it down.
I saw it at the Talleyrand in Levenshulme (keep up the good work, Tom and Dean) produced by two first-time producers, Ella Harris and Lauren Jupp, who sandwiched the show between two rather good live music acts so the audience had reason to make an evening of what was otherwise a one-hour show. It’s a trick I’m going to steal. But an hour is perfect for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and this is a nearly perfect Edinburgh show. This was only their third public performance, but that was completely belied by the quality of the execution. I look forward to watching it again in Edinburgh next year to see how it has settled in.
And good news for The Talleyrand, the Arts Council has had the wisdom to give them a grant from their Grass Roots Music Development Fund. Hurrah!
By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor