Scissor Happy at the Duchess Theatre
It's difficult to review a play that changes every night. But then it's difficult to call Scissor Happy a play - certainly not a straight one. According to the press material, this is an “entirely new theatrical experience”. I don't know about “entirely new” but it certainly is an interesting mix of theatre, whodunit and slapstick improv of the type you re more likely to find in a dinner club than a West End theatre. But for all this apparent dramatic incongruity, it's a formula that works well.
Set in a hairdressing salon, the audience witness the events leading up to the murder of eccentric concert pianist Isabel Czerny. But who did it? There are a clutch of characters to choose from - flamboyant, gay hairdresser Tony (Paul Clayton); his ditzy, blonde assistant Barbara (Nicola Stapleton); her morose, brillo-haired boyfriend Eddie (Jim Sweeney); or the bored aristo Mrs Carrington (Gaye Brown). Yes, okay, they re all shameless caricatures but they re played with such affectionate aplomb that you hardly care. Throughout, the cast seem to be having a corker of a time. You re invited to join in, too - and it's crucial to the plot that you do.
Once the murder has been set, the audience are enlisted to help the inspector (Lee Simpson) and his hapless assistant (Kim Wall) solve the crime. This presents the opportunity to question the characters directly about their actions and motivations before a final vote on the guilty party. Don't expect any Hollywood pyro-technics in this investigation though. One wannabe detective enquired about DNA analysis only to receive a risible response. This is a police department which relies on your wits and recall, some hilarious exchanges, and nothing else - even fingerprinting is unheard of.
Scissor Happy is based on the American hit Shear Madness which is the longest running non-musical in the US and has now been performed in 30 cities and 15 countries around the globe. Co-writers and improv specialists Neil Mullarkey, Lee Simpson and Sweeney adapted the script especially for British audiences. This includes the Covent Garden locale and the up-to-the-minute, UK-centric jokes (à la Drop the Dead Donkey). Tony's quip in defense of his sexual appeal - “I make Antonia Banderas look like William Hague” - is one of my favourites.
Beneath all the jokes and jibes, there's a serious psychological experiment at work exploring the fallibility of human memory. How much do we really notice and remember of what we see? The answer, it seems, is very little indeed. But that's a point you ll only want to consider once the laughter has subsided. In the meantime, just play along and enjoy a fun and fast-paced evening.
Terri Paddock, October 1997