Edinburgh Fringe 2018
“2016 Malcolm Hardee award winner for Comic Originality – dare you board the Twonkeyverse? A fancy new adventure featuring a tiny Al Capone, a mysterious package and a sexual dance that leads us off a cliff. We travel to the belly button of Europe to unlock a safety deposit box. Why is Mr Trombone so sad and what’s it like to work as a gigolo?”
I had heard that Mr Twonkey (the onstage persona of Paul Vickers) had a proper plotline for his show this year. I was concerned. There is always supposedly some kind of plotline to his work, which is usually gossamer-thin. I am pleased to report this year’s offering was no different. The plotline was gloriously absent.
Mr Twonkey is a mainstay of Edinburgh Fringe having been performing at the Festival for many years. The framework never changes. A mix of deconstructive asides, crazed and rambling songs, joking with the audience and his regular series of deformed, home-made junk puppet characters such as Chris Hutchinson (who, this year, sat on my knee and sang me a song whilst stroking my face – which is most odd coming from a lion sharing my surname), Sandy the duck and the more recently created Moth-Ra (who may or may not be mostly umbrella in origin). The Ship’s Wheel is also here, it’s purpose to dispense gifts and wisdom… and disclose surreal fantasies.
This year’s show did get some advance coverage in the national press, not least because of its curious title. Who even considers Liechtenstein at any point? Had it been titled NIGHT TRAIN TO GENEVA, I don’t think it would have garnered the same attention – but then, a place as obvious as Geneva is beneath Vickers’ creativity.
For the past two years, the show has taken place at The Dragonfly, a couple of minutes walk from his previous home at Sweet Venues. The chaos of a room in a pub does actually suit his performance better than a regular theatre environment. We enter the space to Roy Orbison’s ‘Mystery Girl’ and the performance space is a cross between a playroom and a toy recycling centre. I suspect we are seeing a physical manifestation of Vickers’ mind. A previous shortcoming in years gone by had been the music sometimes being so loud you couldn’t hear the lyrics to the songs. This was a great shame, because the lyrics are as madcap as anything he speaks. Thankfully, only the first song makes you strain to hear the words. His vocals will never be any different. I have said it before, and I will say it again; he sounds like Cat Stevens performing Frank Zappa material. This year, I feel the production values of his home-made backing tracks has improved. The sounds are sometimes dense and fully-realised. The style of each piece, whilst still being off-the-wall lunatic, changes from ballad to nursery rhyme to avant-garde atonal. I did feel – if I have any criticism to make – the songs weren’t as silly as usual. That said, is anyone ever going to better the opening song of 2017: ‘Santa Claus Is Eating Human Flesh’?
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. ‘Daddy’s Not Coming Back’ would never be a mainstream hit – but it is a heartbreaking song that deserves a life outside of this show. One thing you would never expect from a Twonkey show is a tear in your eye, but he managed it. If Leonard Cohen were still alive, he would totally own this song. Coincidentally, Vickers does namecheck Cohen later in the show.
There’s a routine about Michael Stipe and REM which leads into an REM spoof. It’s hard to tell if it’s mockery or a tribute, Twonkey’s lyrics making as much sense as Stipe’s always did (which is not a great deal) but it certainly sounds like an REM song – if it were having a drug trip in a funfair.
Twonkey’s manager has always made me laugh. A huge false nose, cheap novelty sunglasses and the top of a Dracula mask put on upside down to resemble something between a quiff and Donald Trump. He gets Twonkey a booking in Liechtenstein, but later fails in his assassination attempt on Twonkey’s life by sending him a Semtex fez. Poor Sandy the duck, who has very little going for him anyway, takes the blast.
By this stage, Vickers is overheating, his shirt drenched in sweat. A man completely in his groove – which is very wide, and bounces off the walls of that groove to proceed. He brings out a Dracula glove puppet. Dracula leaps at a woman in the audience. She screams. It’s OK, though, because shortly before that Twonkey was hypnotising the same woman with finger puppets made from ping-pong balls. It’s swings and roundabouts.
I have no idea what my note ‘Naked Auntie’ means at this stage. I have to question if it’s in the show, or if my mind was so blasted I scribbled this down as some sort of catharsis.
The end of the show? Twonkey finds diamonds and a bluebird inside a pumpkin. Of course he does.
The Twonkey shows are a highlight of my Fringe. You know what you are going to get with one of them, unless you haven’t seen one before – in which case you will wonder what kind of wonderful Hell you’ve stumbled into. Not everyone is going to get it, but those that do are rewarded with an hour of surreal but aware nonsense. There are many comedians out there who are happy to tread this path, but Mr Twonkey leads the way like a Pied Piper with a karaoke machine and a bag of toys he found crushed under the wheel of a car. To quote the man himself: ‘It doesn’t matter if everything breaks. That’s how the show works’.