FringeReview UK 2019
A now legendary musical comedy about Big Brother and biscuits, love and mediocrity, makes its welcome return to Brighton, and delivers a box of biscuity of delights.
“London, 1948 – The Ministry of Biscuits casts its sinister shadow over every tea-time and elevenses in the land. Established to “control biscuits, and to control the idea of biscuits,” it prohibits decadent sweetmeats, such as the Gypsy Cream. But when Cedric Hobson, a junior designer, falls in love and designs a biscuit to “shake confectionery to its very foundations,” his world – and the ministry – are turned upside down. …The “tophole musical comedy” (The Stage) by Philip Reeve & Brian Mitchell
I saw the Ministry of Biscuits in one of its earliest forms at the Komedia Brighton back in the 1990s, accompanied by a live string quartet. It felt very “big” in those days on that Komedia Stage and we all came out humming and smiling. This version is still a comedy musical that is bold enough to explore the darker themes of the Big Brother watching us, the interfering state and the fear of safe mediocrity giving way to chaos and anarchy. At its core is an Ealing-style story and holds attention and interest throughout.
The metaphor of the biscuit is the thread throughout the show that represents our reliance on, and need for stability, represented in a warped kind of creativity – the creativity that realises the bland and keeps us all stable and safe. Yet what happens when a passion for risk, for danger and innovation takes us over? We have revolution, we have romance, we have splastick, and we have a poke at politics all packed into two halves that raced by.
Brian Mitchell and Philip Reeve have penned a thoroughly satisfying and pretty timeless tale and the cast of four, this time with a recorded backing score, pared the show back to something less fussy on stage at the Rialto, yet maintained the fun of an inventive set and some well integrated props and comedy knockabout routines. The script is wise and witty, the performances join up so give us a full-bodied show. Indeed, it is the skills of this eight-legged beast called musical comedy that delivers the goods. The cast join up well, and their characters offer both variety and coherence. This fifty-one year-old loved every minute the second time round, and his 15 year-r-old son loved it as well.
The singing is not, nor is intended to be, over-accomplished, it is simply part of the well realised characters who are both caricature and character at the same time. We have authentic human frailty here, bumbling struggle there, yet also the sum represents and explores the archetypes of romantic yearning, lust for power and recognition, crazy ambition, fear and the wish to challenge the old, rusty hierarchy. Big Brother is watching you and believes society becomes chaos if we break out of safe mediocrity. Biscuits are benevolent when they are safely and reassuring bland. Yet what happens when uncontrolled innovation breaks through?
Will the show ever make a return to Brighton? They say not. I have my doubts. Everyone wants to know. And for good reason.
Catch it on tour.