Brighton Fringe 2018
Song-and lyric-writer Jerry Rulf and book-writer Brian Mitchell, who also directs, have concocted one of the best-executed silliest entertainments of this Fringe. Props and lighting are co-ordinated by Mitchell too with the help of Rialto’s technical resources.
Song-and lyric-writer Jerry Rulf and Brian Mitchell, who also directs, have concocted one of the best-executed silliest entertainments of this Fringe. Bear North had a touch of Ivor Cutler in it. This production by The Foundry Group has no excuse; it’s plain daft, with platinum-tipped songs, copper-bottomed acting and golden-topped voices. The tunes have survived as earworms through another show before I get to write this. Props and lighting are co-ordinated by book-writer Mitchell too.
Rulf’s Joey fronts a band on electric guitar. Keyboard man Glen Richardson and ‘idiot’ drummer Mikey (David Mountfield) have stolen aboard a second-rate cruise-ship, masquerading as musicians. Except of course they can play, and do so with superb opening instrumentals showing Richardson’s remarkable keyboard deftness and lightness of touch, Mountfield’s serious drumming skills and Rulf’s overall musicianship – he boasts a fine light baritone to Mountfield’s comedic bass and the darker barite of Richardson..
Mountfield’s almost Laurel-like idiocy transforms with a cap into Chief Officer brown the loud-mouthed bully who wants nothing better than to kick them off ship. He hates them all, particularly that drummer ‘I hate him most of all’ raising one of the best laughs. His routine ‘I hate music’ recalls Bernstein’s song of the same name, without the redeeming conclusion. ‘When I see a deaf guy I wish that it was me.’ He produces a hard Brooklyn accent. Mountfield’s transformation is horribly convincing, yet his Mikey’s a sublimely cringeworthy creation. Richardson enjoys an avatar too. More on him later.
Rulf’s Joey is the fixer. They need a fourth member and who should stroll by but the gorgeous Sam. Amy Sutton’s known for several things, appearing recently as a spiralling alcoholic in scenes of great power. But nothing quite like this; and she can sing. Quite how she and Joey are meant to be attracted is obscure and a bit sudden with a jump-cut of two days. I do find this just a bit difficult incidentally; there’s about thirty years between them, and you’d never have gender reversal here.
There’s the inevitable bust-up after Joey presents her with a new song penned straight for her. It’s the title song. And with lines as seductive as ‘mend my shirts’ and his later on saying he wants her to be his property, you sense she’s really going to fall for that.
Sam’s a free agent she tells us. Cue Richardson’s bewigged Frederico XIII. He’s sweet on Sam too. If his ‘One Gold Ring’ doesn’t let her know he adds ‘there’d a message hidden in there’ but despite the princess title and much else Sam now regrets Joey’s enticements. Yes this has the ring of truth about it.
Frederico XIII becomes mournful, Joey heroic, Brown vindictive and Sam revelatory. If you don’t know the denouement I certainly won’t spoil it for you. As a story it could have been written in the 1920s, but it’s as fresh as the coming weekend.
‘Where’s Joey’ where two of the cast out of sight behind the screen produce boards for audience participation is a highlight.
If Rulf anchors proceedings as it were, Richardson’s and Mountfield’s double-turns alternate pathos and bathos deliciously. Sutton’s slinky smoke-backed siren not only sings but in the narrow compass afforded her, she relishes her volte-faces, and you can read her tiniest inflections of disdain, anger, regret and tearful withdrawal. She makes something three-dimensioned out of the sketch of Sam. And the final reprise with Sutton and Rulf is genuinely touching.
It’s difficult to recall all the lyrics without an MP3 from the show and there’s no lyrics list which there should be – because a lot of people are going out humming those tunes and leaving many comments. Quite right too. There’s first-class musical entertainment here, crouched under the disguise of a schoolboy plot. Irresistible.