Sunday, 30 March 2014

Never Try This At Home

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars
Now the 1970s have been tarnished forever by the behaviour, alleged or otherwise, of some of the era's biggest show-business stars, it's as hard to satirise its excesses as it is to know how to replace all the endless retro Bank Holiday telly shows it spawned. Yet that's exactly what the Told By An Idiot company attempt to do in a show that reimagines the custard pie throwing anarchy of Saturday morning children's TV as the accident waiting to happen it probably was.

It starts with our host Niall Ashdown setting up a student union vibe with the framing device of gathering the surviving presenters of a Tiswas-like show called Shushi, which came to an abrupt end in 1979 when its sole female presenter attempted suicide live on air. As a series of live rewinds reveal a culture of casual misogyny, cultural stereotyping and egomania, Ashdown interviews each of Shushi's alumni in turn, including its female survivor.

As a comment on the unseen indulgences of a seemingly untouchable mass media, there are some deliberately discomforting moments in Paul Hunter's production of Carl Grose's script devised in part with the company. The trouble is, for all the kitsch recreations on show, there are too many mixed messages being sent out. Any serious points being made are partly undermined by the sheer fun the cast of six are so clearly having. It's a tricky balancing act, but if Told By An Idiot's observations are to matter as much as The Day Today, Alan Partridge and new BBC mock doc W1A do, they need to go deeper and get much, much messier.

The Herald, March 28th 2014


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