Fifty Years in Fifty Rels (Who at Fifty Fringe Festival- Manchester)
As the country goes ''Doctor Who'' mad, the Lass O'Gowrie in Manchester joins in with a ''Who at Fifty'' festival
Hard-core fans of Doctor Who insist that lack of rehearsal time, limited budgets, dodgy special effects and risible locations all contribute to the eccentric charm of the show. Such fans will find the rough and ready Fifty Years in Fifty Rels irresistible.
In the style of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, writer Ian Winterton summarises The Doctor's entire adventures. Supposedly this takes fifty minutes (to match the anniversary), but the actual show runs for twice that time. Unlike the RSC, Winterton does not limit himself to conveying the tone of the series, but concentrates on giving a précis of as many of the significant episodes as possible.
As you'd expect from a show that is part of a festival celebrating the Time Lord, Winterton's exhaustive approach is appreciative rather than critical. He gently points out the more obvious inconsistencies in the storylines and amusingly articulates the occasional misgivings that fans may have about the quality of the Doctor's companions.
It is an approach that works well with the earlier, more basic episodes, but the complexity of the modern storylines defy summary and efforts to communicate their contents sound incoherent. You have to sympathise with Phil Dennison (who co-directs and performs) as he struggles with lengthy jargon–filled speeches while juggling his spectacles, a bow tie and a script.
Oh yes – the scripts. We're told that the cast has regenerated and their new incarnations have to perform script in hand. This fits in well with a production that occasionally feels like it has a built-in blooper reel. At one point it becomes apparent that that wearing a Cyberman Mask prevents the actors from being able to read the scripts.
Co-directors Sean Mason and Phil Dennison find a simple solution to the problem of staging such a potentially complex production. The stage is left empty apart from a narrator while the cast dash on from off-stage wearing a variety of extremely basic costumes to adopt the roles of the different Doctors and companions.
Villains are left largely to the imagination, growling threateningly from the wings. The tone is affectionate, enthusiastic and full of in-jokes – a mouthful of water being used to stimulate the spitting of over-actors. The anarchic approach would – with a lot more polish - make for a perfect panto-style entertainment. But the directors and actors share the difficulty of the writer in working out how to briefly communicate the later plotlines of the series in a way that makes sense and lack of preparation time results in a fluffed ending for the show.
Like the series it celebrates Fifty Years in Fifty Rels is flawed but great fun. Proceeds from the show are contributed to the Alzheimer's Society.
Who at Fifty continues at the Lass O'Gowrie until 30 November.
- Dave Cunningham