A darkly funny satire looking back at 1970s children’s TV shows. Custard pies and forced smiles. Welcome to Saturday morning TV… that means pie fights, buckets of water, casual sexism and thoughtless misogyny!
Never Try This At Home is a collaboration between theatre company Told By An Idiot and Birmingham Rep, and stars the very funny Petra Massey who is best known for her turns in Spymonkey shows, which are fairly similar in style to this production. They took over Latitude’s theatre tent on the last night of the festival, and it’s a good thing it was towards the end as they made a pretty enormous mess of the stage, which I am sure the hapless stage managers were less than happy about!
The concept of the show was somewhat bizarre for a theatre performance. We were quickly cast as a TV studio audience, watching a programme whose main aim was to bring warring parties together and reunite them. Apparently having successfully reunited warring religious and tribal factions, fractured families and angry spouses, this programme was going to try and reunite the members of the ill fated 1970s kids TV show SHUSHI (An acronym for the catchphrase Say Hello Up, Say Hello, with no-one being able to explain the meaning of the final ‘I’) What this involved was watching clips of the final episode that caused the breakdown of relations, and then interviewing the presenters to try and help them forgive and forget.
So, as a Latitude theatre audience we ended up suspending our disbelief to two levels, by watching a TV programme showing us clips of another TV programme, but all this actually being performed live onstage. My overall impression of the piece was that it was pretty hilarious, utterly insane and largely incomprehensible. I did enjoy it quite a lot, but that is mainly thanks to the energy of the performers, their interaction with the audience, and the somewhat improvised feel to the piece. And I suspect this was largely to do with the less than ideal conditions inspired by performing at Latitude Festival, but which could easily have been part of the show’s charm in any venue.
Being a play about 1970s kids TV shows, there was no small amount of black humour in it, and I heard a kid say to their mum as they left – ‘I didn’t really get some bits of that’, and she replied ‘I’m glad to hear it, there was a lot of darkness there’, which is very true, and which did of course lend the piece some very necessary depth and interest. None of the jokes were too obviously linked to recent celebrity incidents, but they managed to cleverly highlight much of the intrinsic misogyny and racism that infected TV in that era.
Overall, whilst very funny in parts – especially the marvellously chaotic ending where shaving foam pies were flying all over the theatre, (even the poor sign language interpreter got one in the face), it was quite a disjointed and overly long piece of theatre. It could certainly have been quite heavily cut without losing anything, and it was hard to see the relevance or interest of some of the characters. I was not sorry to have seen it, but was certainly glad it was the final night of the festival as my last remaining T-shirt was completely ruined by shaving foam when I walked out of the tent!