Brighton Fringe 2014
When struggling market research company FMR land the job of a lifetime, rebranding the panacea, Dr. Campbell’s Lotion, all hell breaks loose in this fast-paced, wise-cracking, and hilarious musical.
Set in swinging Sixties London, wide-boy-made-good Fernsby (Christophe Phillips), returns from the USA with new ideas on how to turn around FMR, his failing marketing company, when he lands the job of rebranding the beloved cure-all, Dr. Campbell’s Lotion.
The reluctant Campbell is coerced into rebranding his family medicine by his vampy American wife, Wanda (Heather Urquhart). She manipulates her husband, and seduces the slightly naïve Fernsby, twisting all the men around her finger to ensure she can maximize her husband’s wealth, so she can then afford to divorce him.
Everything starts to go pear-shaped when FMR’s staff begin making up the survey results down the pub (ironic, considering Gallup were fined $10.5 million dollars in 2013 for deliberately falsifying data). I have it on good authority that the whole show was far closer to the truth than any market researcher would care to admit. Not so much a satire, as a fly on the wall documentary!
All the cast played numerous roles, and all shone, but exceptional performances by Dave Mounfield as ludicrously hammy Scottish magnate, Campbell, and Emma Kilbey as the slightly goofy and lovelorn assistant Ms. Lassiter lifted the show immensely. Kilbey’s parody of “These Are a Few of My Favourite Things” – underscoring the fatuousness of surveys – was a particular highlight. As was Lloyd Ryan Thomas’ performance as US beatnik whiz-kid-cum-charlatan, Abramowitz, brought in to help with the re-brand. In fact it’s unfair to point out any individual performance, as it was a perfect ensemble piece.
Comedic playwrights Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon have created a ludicrous paean to the days of early Sixties sit-coms, or perhaps a Joe Orton play, while simultaneously satirizing contemporary pollsters like MORI and Gallup’s obsession with knowing what the public think. It’s a masterstroke of lampooning the nascent world of surveys and focus groups and the vivacious cast kept the laughs and songs coming thick and fast.
The music was appropriately shonky with twinkly piano and double bass, yet the lyrics were impressively sharp, fast and witty. Writer and composer Mitchell was holding forth on the Melodica, which added to the humour of the songs with catchy riffs (especially when emulating the bagpipes during numbers by Mounfield’s Scottish character).
And it’s rare these days that you’ll get a musical extolling the virtues of getting pissed, raging against mislabeling of products (“Just a Genericized Brand!”) or even the line, “Do the embittered transvestite jockey!”
If there was any criticism, it was a slightly amusing hiccup when a cast member forgot which role they were playing, and that the show could benefit from radio mikes for the cast, and perhaps a slightly larger band. But it’s sheer energy and drive override these minor failings.
It’s a show with universal appeal, which will be enjoyed by all the family with it’s catchy tunes, tongue-in-cheek humour and references to numerous musicals.
Four out of five audience members loved it, while the rest didn’t understand the question. And if the polls are to be believed this is destined to be a surefire hit.