Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Mad, wonderful, laugh-out-loud double-hander musical by the best skinny man-purple puppet-double act in the world right now.
Sammy J and Randy have followed up their first collaboration – the insane ‘Sammy J in the Forest of Dreams’ – with what would seem to be a more low-key affair. There’s just one puppet character (the loveable middle-aged low-life Randy) and the conceit sounds simple enough. After emotional and financial troubles, young Sammy J shacks up with Randy in a house on 30 Rickett’s Lane. Sammy works as a tax lawyer and Randy doesn’t do much at all, and they live happily with each other, singing songs and playing massively intricate self-invented boardgames. But when Sammy gets involved in a bringing the culprits of a massive tax fraud to justice, their relationship gets a bit more complicated.
This is a Disneyesque comedy musical, and the various songs are without exception of very high quality. They don’t just illustrate the story but drive it forward, and include some of the best jokes at the festival (listen to the song about dreaming, or you’ll miss some of the gags). The showbizz verve with which they are performed demands a lot from the performers and they pull it off in style (Forest of Dreams didn’t have a West End run for nothing). It has to be said, Sammy J is an amazing singer -especially considering his thin frame. His sometimes powerful, sometimes fragile voice injects emotion into the proceedings – only to be relentlessly brought crashing back to earth by great jokes. Randy’s singing is slightly less impressive than Sammy’s – but then again, he is made of felt. Performing the songs convincingly, the purple felt bastard’s overall acting was as -if not more- emotionally intense than his human counterpart, with some genuinely effective tugging of heartstrings, especially Randy’s faintly terrifying prison monologue.
The show I saw had to be stopped a couple of times, due to props failing to appear. This, however, gave us the chance to see Heath McIvor improvise with Randy. The purple guy and Sammy J were sparking off each other, sneakily emphasizing McIvor’s immense talent at puppetry. Their rapport is exemplary, especially in these places where the performers show a genuine affection for the show, the crowd and each other. The show’s conclusion about true friendship rings completely true. The joy in performing what is essentially not the most upbeat script is tangible. Not for nothing did they win the Barry Award (the most important prize in Australian comedy) at last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival for this show.
But all of this theatrical aplomb is in service of the jokes, which carry the show. Often incredibly stupid and filthy but never unoriginal and coming from the strangest places. A song that could easily have fit into Jerry Springer the Opera Be warned, the word -balls- is a recurrent phrase. The phrase -laugh a minute- is overused, but Rickett’s Lane had me snorting into my drink several times. They also mangle the name of a certain country in such a way that you’ll never be able to say it again without giggling.
Rickett’s Lane will never be the most polished show on the fringe, and the West-End pizazz might deter some of those more antagonistic towards musical theatre. But the sheer excitement, the exemplary songs, the masterful puppetry and the unique relationship between thin man, purple puppet and audience definitely will. It’s cartoonish but never patronising, it’s intelligently stupid and charming. My advice is keep the Ventolin ready. This show is filled to the brim with laughs, sporting genuine joy and some expert dancing. This is not a show about issues, but about the sheer joy of seeing a man and a puppet do what they do best.