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FringeReview UK 2016

Dick Barton and the Tango of Terror

New Venture Theatre, Brighton

Genre: Comedy, Contemporary, Live Music, Theatre

Venue: New Venture Theatre, Studio


Low Down

Gerry McCrudden directs Dick Barton and the Tango of Terror, Phil Wilmott’s text is merely the third of a series of homages he made around 2001. Steve Hoar’s musical direction is crucial, and he also leads a Trio. Simon Glazier’s shred recreation of a 1951 BBC studio, down to the costumes of Mark Green and Jackie Jones. Strat Mastoris lights in neat period fashion. Fintan Shevlin’s choreography makes maximum use of studio space.


Gerry McCrudden troubles the world with this unveiling of plots against it. Happily Dick Barton and the Tango of Terror lends some respite, though Phil Wilmott’s vivid witty text is merely the third of a series of homages he made around 2001. It specialises in cliff-hangers even at the end of a narrative. Steve Hoar’s musical direction is crucial, Simon Glazier’s shrewd recreation of a 1951 BBC studio including parqué floor in puce and peppermint is beautifully organised and meticulously sourced with old broadcasting bric-a-brac, down to the costumes of Mark Green and Jackie Jones. Strat Mastoris lights in neat period fashion.


Lovingly guyed, the constant undercutting of narrative with radio asides, intrigues and studio spats, square-jawed Dick Barton has to surmount not only EFIL (Evil Foreigners in London) but radio convention teetering to obligatory BBC disaster. Jack Edison makes a superb crack of this with rapid RP delivery, sings well and blasts a trumpet at least lustily. For that’s the point; it seems the Light Programme has strayed wowing in from another frequency and this is a crazily-paved musical of sorts.


Not only that, of his working-class deferential sidekicks Snowy’s actor has reverted to Soho gutters, and an actress Kirrily Long is brought in giving a spirited exhibition of sidekick shyness. Even more of a shock there’s a lady announcer Genevieve (Lex Lake) who in one highlight dances with Edison’s Barton despite his anxiety to pursue criminals, because there’s a dead-air spot she won’t let him leave her to. David Eaton as announcer and Alistair Lock Producer enjoys a flustered sexist continuity; they look horribly plausible.


So does Mark Green, here a poker-stiff Colonel Gardener in several senses, hapless MI5 spymaster who can’t keep a briefcase or it seems a guardsman let alone what he does with Brussel sprouts.


Juan el Bigglesworth (Tom Slater’s excellent here, in two accents and at least two chips balancing his sultry foreign shoulders), whose father’s one great organ tune was stolen, has sworn revenge in guise of a tango master, seducing girls and their jewels. No-one’s safe, not even Barton’s housekeeper Mrs Horrocks (a fine turn by Kate McGann, you’ll never eat crumpets the same way again). He’s also pursuing all British agents and Rodger and Wilco (a charming camp double act Alex Williams and Matt Mulvay) are in mortal danger in Rio, but have they chanced on Mrs Horrocks’ sister and her daughters?


When Robert Purchese enacts Jock the other sidekick you begin to tremble. His hapless love for Daphne (pert but oh-so-helpless Emmie Spencer), threatened by Juan draws him into a series of gaffes, though he’s not like Snowy prone to giving Barton’s address so a bomb can be deposited, activated when Juan’s father’s organ piece is played over the airwaves.


Purchese though plays violin to augment the band Steve Hoar directs from the piano, with Sarah Elliot clarinet and sax, and Adam Kincaid. This is a wonderfully turned set of musical treats, jazzing Mozart’s ‘Queen of the Night’ aria so Kirrily Long actually nails those dotted rhythms, to parts of Carmen to other popular period hits, where Fintan Shevlin’s choreography makes maximum use of studio space. Sheelagh Baker’s the sister of McGann whose daughters Laura Fosner and Jo Jameson make a stab at chortling and tangoing (Jameson’s moment): they’re all plotting to find the girls husbands.


How this all resolves, or not, who the Wireless Foley team are (Andy Osborn and Igor Goran Macukat jump up with props) how briefcases Brussel sprouts and Daphne’s true passion works out you’ll have to see for yourself. This is admirable high-quality festive fun; an excellent script well worth reviving and indeed sourcing again for others, a crack creative team particularly the musical numbers, and a cast who for the most part are at home with whiplash RP, particularly Jack Edison who’s never tongue-tied once. McCrudden as ever keeps it all miraculously taut though knows just how to allow solos their flourishing, and this was essentially an ensemble – pirouetting with fiendish musical twirls. Enjoy, and note the extra matinees.