Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Accident-prone crooner Tomás Ford has been planning a massive spectacle, but all he’s got is a set of the worst songs ever and death-defying charisma.
Upstairs at Sweet Venues they’ve done a pretty good job of disguising a hotel conference suite as a theatre. It’s a good size, well-provisioned technically, with a large stage. Tomás Ford is encouraging us to sit in the front 3 rows so we can all enjoy the party – in an early aside he confesses “As you may have noticed, I booked a room that’s too big”. No matter. This is a clever subversion of cabaret in all its myriad forms – he has a sound desk for backing tracks, almost psychedelic re-workings of songs from Take That’s “Back For Good” to The Phantom Of The Opera and a laptop to play what he calls “shitty videos” projected on a screen at the back of the stage (these are arch, purposefully shitty videos, hazy graphics with occasional subtitle comments on the action, from Ford’s disturbed subconscious). He uses caged light bulbs (like you find in a garage) for his own take on a torch song. There’s an undercurrent of the awful awkwardness you feel when Basil Fawlty is about to commit some new faux-pas. You fear for Ford’s safety on more than one occasion.
Ford’s character is clearly on the spectrum, enthusiastic ADD crossed with manic depression, ginger sideburns framing a face that moves through every emotion known to man and then some, tortured eyes revelling in punk, or occasionally lighting up with childlike joy at the rediscovery of a beautiful melody in a ballad. Imagine Sid Vicious crossed with Frank Sinatra and Vincent Van Gogh and you might be close. He also proves to be a pretty accomplished musician, playing guitar and an electric uke.
We only get glimpses of Ford’s life in between the songs that come thick and fast. There are hints of being a mummy’s boy, references to Irish dancing in his youth – his mum caused a stir by stitching a kookaburra on his jacket breaching strict rules. At a gig in a mining town north of Perth, he confesses an awkward moment occurred with a vigorous basin tap inadvertently splashing his trousers – he doesn’t want a repeat of the “Mr Pissy-Pants” incident. Three volunteers are commandeered to fashion a nappy from black bin-liners and gaffer tape. “Don’t worry about the genitals – I’m pretty asexual anyway” – there’s vulnerability in this performance as well as bravura. The costume is, of course, all naff and there’s quite a lot of it in a shambolic mess at the back of the stage – I’m sure the changes vary from show to show – at one point a Santa hat draped across his face doubles as a mask for his Michael Crawford tribute “The Music Of The Night”. A scratchy message appears on the screen “Art is happening now” – he revels in the undercut. Les Dawson had to be a very good pianist to play badly so well – Ford can clearly sing very well and can play the slightly off-key card too.
He’s constantly searching for “the right vibe for the room”, so you might only get a snatch of a song before he shakes his head disapprovingly and moves on. “I have another show that I do for money – this one’s for my artistic integrity and my soul’s salvation”. The show is nearly topped off with “New York, New York” but there’s more in store – all I will add is that a deeply unfunny heckler got his come-uppance, to the delight of everyone there.
It’s a completely nuts hour that really pushes boundaries, individually and collectively. High-energy anarchic cabaret karaoke comedy – marvellous and memorable.