Brighton Fringe 2017
An ambitious, large scale mixed-media romp through the neo-geo-socio-political landscape of our time.
Let’s hear it for old school agit-prop, for sticking it to the man, for satirical songs, irony filled visuals and dancing with the devil. Billed as an “immersive, 360° roller-coaster ride through the neo-geo-socio-political landscape of our time,” The Brexorcist anarchically eschews theatrical norms such as plot, character development or narrative arc. It offers instead a song-cycle with film and staged vignettes; a journey – much like a roller coaster – with ups and downs, through a landscape in which capitalism is king and we are all pretty much doomed.
At the centre are songs by The Private Sector, primarily Sam Hewitt, who also writes and directs, and performer Tim Leopard. They are quirky, hook-driven numbers, backed by a small on-stage band and matched with great animations and manipulated film. There’s fun here in apocalyptic visions, involving Trump, Blair, May and Corbyn (no politician escapes demonisation) and re-branded packaging. Bottle of Vom or Sepsis anyone?
Tim Leopard entertains and repulses as the devil, pushing the limits of bad taste. It’s a comedy character played deadpan as it should be, but the devil outstays his welcome and some funny lines don’t land. There’s far more fun in a skit featuring Dave Suit as Nigel Farage having a problem with his personal “Freedom of Movement.” Composer and singer Glen Richardson nails the idiocy of our current political situation in this and other songs. He gets to the heart of Brexit through satirical lyrics and has a natural ear for melody. The “Bus of Lies” is a joy, as two hapless travellers, Dave Suit and ‘Regulator 214’ Graham Darg are forced to take a taxi they can’t afford. The direction of travel suggested here is clear, delivered in a two-minute pop song with a cheesy cartoon.
Further musical content includes some lovely horn arrangements and Jason Pegg’s effective takedown of Twitter feeds that troll women, sung by the largely female choir. And thank goodness for the Dulcetones; there are no women in any of the main roles or in the band.
As a musical review there is much to enjoy and the production team does well to bring everything seamlessly and with very few technical hitches.
More problematic is the handling of the story around which all the rest spins. A galvanizing performance by Seth Morgan as The Brexorcist has a touch of Prospero about it. But the idea that the hapless Bobo (Frank France) is reborn in a mystical spell is theatrically muddled, robbing the show of the desired linking thread. With no-one to root for the audience remains emotionally detached and occasionally baffled. It might not have set out to be The Book of Mormon, or Jerry Springer The Musical, but The Brexorcist would benefit from a harder look at what it is trying to say and how it wants to make us feel. A mixed evening then, with delight and bewilderment in equal measures.
The irony is that whilst castigating political sloganeering and corporate branding, The Private Sector and ArtsLab are masters of eye-catching graphics and persuasive copy-writing. Selling out a Spiegeltent on a Monday night is no easy feat. And if the show ultimately promises more than it delivers, perhaps that’s just how it should be. We all believed the hype. As The Brexorcist says, “There’s nothing wrong with the world. It’s the people in it that are fucked.”