Audiences for David Mills’ new cabaret show The New Black are offered a free cocktail with every ticket purchased. Is this to warm them up? Or a reward for making the effort to get down to Kennington? Who knows. Suffice to say the cocktail’s name is “bloody sour” so no-one can say they weren’t warned.
Mills opens with the assurance that, although it is easy to be a bitch, he is here to “give something back”, and he has a list of good causes. There follows a promising send up of gay and lesbian groups ending with a plea for our support for FAF - the Feline Aids Foundation - whose kittens in particular need our help. Sadly this is about as funny as it gets. Mills moves on, throwing in some songs along the way, to give us his thoughts on Islam, Christianity, drag queens and mothers but fails to say anything either amusing or insightful about any of them. At one point he breaks off and turns to the audience with a tone of desperation “What fun we’re having” he says. It’s a moment of nicely judged ironic self-observation and if he were able to develop this instead of depending so much on parody the show would be the better for it.
At least half the content of Mills’ show is singing. Fortunately he has an able accompanist in Michael Roulston and some amusing moments come from their exchanged looks and remarks. But Mills is just not a singer, and he knows it. “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room” he suggests – his voice. He claims it has been affected by a cold. 'Is this more irony?' the audience wonders. But when Roulston, who can sing, joins in the vocals the contrast is all too obvious.
Amongst the many promises in the flyer for the show are “biting wit”, “acerbic insight” and a “hysterical rant”. The first two commodities are in sadly short supply but Mills attempts to provide the latter, particularly after the interval. The second half kicks off with a rambling anecdote about women of a certain age in show business and moves on to life in the ghetto, punctuated again with more songs. He tries to bring some emotion to all of this but it isn't clear whether he really cares or is just mocking.
He goes on to work himself up to an apparently fevered pitch, finally declaring with a toss of his head “We’re living in a very dark age”. Having sat through the show, notwithstanding the free cocktail, the audience might be inclined to agree. What is needed in this performance is less parody and more honesty. Somewhere behind the fake hysteria and noise there could be a real comedian waiting to appear.
- Louise Gooding