Never blag a blagger; advice apparently not superfluous to the Blag Theatre Co’s ill-advised musicals’ spoof Entertainment … My Arts!, now running once a week at the Arts Theatre. Languishing in this fabulously seedy chic venue, five actors perform three consecutive half-hour shows, each with a 30-minute drink-break/get-out clause. What should be a truly cabaret-style evening of boozy entertainment is scuppered by this all too embarrassing intimacy.
A feeble concoction of skits on popular shows, Entertainment boasts neither witty libretto nor fresh meat. The men fare best, having some vocal ability and making a stab at mimicry. John Holland’s cockanee Dick van Dyke and blousy Michael Ball are recognisable and Richard Beaumont’s Carol Channing and miscast Julian Clary are spot on. Amongst the women, Jean Warner excels, especially in her Bassey/Bond take off “Old Singer”. These performances, however, are horribly let down by their material.
Desperately shoehorning in references to The Lord of the Rings and The Man in the Iron Mask (a vastly funnier flopperoo), the show depends on ancient gags on Shaftesbury Ave dinosaurs. Ridiculing the Les Mis revolve is about as cutting edge as Thatcher handbagging miners. The “God on High” skit is so shamelessly lifted from Forbidden Broadway, I’m surprised it doesn’t come with a copyright clause attached. And this is the problem: everything on offer here has all been done before and done far better.
Musical theatre - fantastically complex, realistically compromised, beloved, berated and camp - sends itself up. To do more is to join the masters, which is why Forbidden Broadway has triumphed for so long: matching gut-busting humour to virtuoso musical wit. Moreover, FB performers are such uncanny mimics and dazzling vocalists that you ask why they’re not under the biggest spotlights in town. Truth is, most of them have been and will again. Not so for the good people of Blag.
The challenge with skit shows, especially involving the twilight clique of Musical Theatre, is to entertain both the Aspects aficionados and the Victor/Victoria virgins. Loving shows from Anything Goes to Ziegfeld’s Follies, I might represent only half of the possible audience (the too-clever-by half). Representing the others, my guest chuckles along, but in defending the show, quite accidentally hits the nail in the coffin “ It’s funny, you know, like a panto at the village hall.”