Perhaps it was inevitable that the politically motivated punk band Chumbawamba should turn to producing pantomime. The refrain of their best-known song, Tubthumping ("I get knocked down, but I get up again") was an infuriatingly catchy summation of the art of the slapstick; and they know more than most about the impact of a bucket of water, as John Prescott discovered to his cost at the Brit awards in 1998.
Yet after that brief spurt of notoriety, the band's chart success seemed to dry out faster than the Deputy PM's trousers; hence the shift towards pantomime, which is often seen to be the last resort of a flagging career. However, this is not the first time members of the band have turned towards the stage. Founder Boff Whalley and former singer Alice Nutter have had work produced at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and the band has a close association with Red Ladder, whose artistic director Rod Dixon developed this idea of a musical comedy based on the Luddite uprising of the early 19th century. In fact, the piece has its roots less in pantomime than in the older and practically defunct tradition of satirical ballad opera, in which polemic themes were enlivened by popular tunes of the day.
The band remains in character throughout, punctuating the action with a mix of new material and traditional airs drawn from the repertoire of English rebel songs. These generally come in stomping, acoustic arrangements: yet the most hauntingly effective piece is an a capella reflection on the irony that the same Marsden foundry, Enoch & Sons, produced both livelihood-threatening machines and the hammers used in their destruction: Enoch shall make 'em and Enoch shall break 'em.
The plot itself is fairly basic: Elsie Proud (Jo Mousley) is a spirited young radical fighting a lone battle against exploitative employers, conniving clergymen and pocket-lining politicians. She gets knocked down, but she gets up again. And the script, by Boff Whalley and Dom Grace, is a rich stew of lewd jokes and historical sauciness, laced with sly digs at topical bones of contention such as MPs' expenses, which are aptly reduced to the slogan: "One man, one moat." It's hardly subtle, though subtlety was never Chumbawamba's strongest suit. The anarchic energy of Rod Dixon's production provides a fine fit for the group's pranksterish outlook on life, though it's probably safe to say that John Prescott won't be buying a ticket.
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