Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A gallant attempt to create a space clone talent show – with a difference.
It’s a wet Thursday afternoon in Edinburgh and Chris Coxen has been handed the performer’s nightmare – an almost complete lack of audience for a show that needs, well, an audience to really make it work at all. All he’s got is a couple and their two young boys in the front row (whom he had flyered in the street about twenty minutes before curtain up) and two late arrivals in the back row who are actually at the wrong show – they were aiming at something on Niddry Street and ended up two blocks west of where they wanted to be. No wonder they looked confused, they were expecting to see a dance piece.
The premise of this show is that four characters are being auditioned with the ‘winner’ being cloned and catapulted into space to protect America from marauding communists and random terrorists. We, the audience, get to choose the ‘winner’.
So far, so surreal. Overseeing this beauty parade is the MC, Tom Webb, who is doing his level best to generate some level of interaction with the admittedly limited audience at his disposal. Cue first candidate, the truly awful and eminently forgettable Barry Tallow, a smoothie from Bermuda, all velvet jacket and exposed hairy chest. True, he was supposed to be cringe worthy, but the flat dialogue did nothing for the flat atmosphere. The show was about to die on its feet (and this review disappear forever into Room 101) when in rode the cavalry in the form of four more adults to boost the audience. Trouble was, they had lunched rather well and were all too prepared to share their bonhomie whether the rest of us, including the headline act, wanted it or not.
Never mind, surely our next space clone candidate, Stever Patte, a motivational speaker of unquenchable optimism, would be able to channel this exuberant quartet’s energies in the right direction? He certainly had that brand of ‘US BS’ that seems an endemic national trait but even Stever struggled as the heckling grew steadily more edgy. What hope, then, for the next guy up, the introverted Keith, who marketed thunder sound tracks?
Fortunately our quartet’s attention span was limited and they took their leave, much to the relief of the mother of the two young lads but I’m sure that the last space contestant, combat dancing Danny Morsel, would have seen them off anyway.
This show truly was heading for Room 101 until our late comers burst in. A couple of Coxen’s characters were well constructed but the others were pretty half-baked, both in concept and delivery. When you’re willing the MC (the very able Tom Webb) to get back on stage it’s a sure sign that the quality of the main act is limited.
But what earned this show its 3 stars was the exemplary manner in which Coxen dealt with the attempts to disrupt his routine. Clearly mindful of his audience mix, he was unfailing polite, improvised dialogue in character and with considerable panache, delivered some good ‘put downs’ in an attempt to keep the lid on things and somehow managed to keep things broadly on track. His award is for sheer effort and a level of stoicism far beyond the call of duty. Perhaps next time, given slightly better luck with his audience, he’ll be able to generate the atmosphere that this show needs in order to make it work as, at its heart, it is an interesting concept.