Something of surprise that the well-received The Full Monty (you know the one; men lose their jobs and take their clothes off as a result. Critic Mark Shenton’s life back to front if you think about it) has posted closing notices so soon. We may not have been especially impressed with Monty yet it still looked like a sure-fire hen party hit to us. Clothes were shed but more than than shirts have been lost.
A report that the advance was only running at just over one million and at Monday’s preview an empty upper circle and plenty of vacant seats in the stalls, plus tales of the interval lasting 50 minutes at previews do suggest something has been going very wrong.
Act 1:a (Monday)
Chenice (Cynthia Erivo) lives in a caravan under a flyover with her grandfather who is kept alive by an iron lung and a talking dog who is kept alive by Simon Lipkin (operating and voicing amusingly). A plumber, Max (Alan Morrissey), has applied for X Factor, falls for Chenice and persuades her to enter too even though she believes she can’t sing. But of course she can sing. Spectacularly.
So, yet another take on TV talent shows, expect send ups of Dermot O’Leary, Louis Walsh, Cheryl Cole, Jedward and Simon Cowell. If you’ve never seen the programme you might be either pretty lost or find it hard to care.
Some of Harry Hill’s surreal humour hits its mark, some falls flat. There’s a overlong sequence as the rag bag of applicants queue for auditions (yet another show with a flag-waving Les Miz gag), a Subo-styled supermarket cashier (Katy Secombe, daughter of Harry) showing her talent in a number performed on checkout conveyer belts, a hunchback (Charlie Baker) milking his moments hilariously until he’s saddled with a tedious rap number and Chenice’s audition, involving a life-sized fly and a pair of giant lips, is a bit of a mess. But at least it explains the (presumably) yawning lips of the unappealing poster for the show with its nods to Terry Gilliam and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Phil set his watch to time it. Amanda Holden (sitting across the aisle from Phil) stuck out the lengthy wait. Producer David Ian gave up departing with a “Let me know what happens” to his companions. It was nearly an hour before director Sean Foley jumped onto the stage to inform a restless audience that the show couldn’t go on. And this nearly 2 weeks into previews. Hopeless.
Phil was provided with an interesting insight into the life of a Big Issue seller outside the theatre at Monday’s ‘interval’/finish, when he was accosted with “It’s crap isn’t it?” adding “I brought my wife for her birthday on Friday. Only laughed once and that was in the second act.”
Act 1:b (Tuesday)
Circumstances offered Phil an unexpected chance to revisit the following night. No obvious signs of changes and a second viewing showed the flaws in an even harsher light, though at least it was like hearing the songs for the first time as Phil couldn’t remember any of them.
But there was a different atmosphere altogether. The stalls were almost full and someone was in the house causing a right old brouhaha; Mr Cowell in person. Had he been parachuted in to provide a much needed boost to his other new baby after the previous night’s shambles?
The stall’s gent’s loo was cordoned off; someone had posted an early review by vomiting over a considerable stretch of carpet outside it.
Phil’s companion for the night departed (no, it wasn’t Andrew) pronouncing it “dire”.
Huge crowds formed around His Royal High-Waistedness as he took his seat for Act 2, cell phones flashed and the front of the dress circle could have inspired Hieronymus Bosch as a sea of bodies leaned over to catch a glimpse. Cowell’s portrayed as something of a messiah in the show but the second coming was happening in the stalls. Even Dame Angela’s stage door hoop-la paled by comparison.
For once the second act was ready ahead of the audience and began before the crowds has dispersed and seated themselves. Events in the auditorium were more remarkable than than anything happening on stage.
Es Devlin’s second act sets are more spectacular and it’s also much funnier as we see more of Nigel Harman‘s preening Simon and Ashley Knight‘s Louis who only make fleeting appearances before the break. But best of all we finally get to see Victoria Elliott’s hilarious Cheryl Cole variation, Jordy (sic) for the first time. A valkyrie-inspired opening number pokes at the portentousness of an X Factor final, there’s a bit of tap dancing and a ‘Jedward’ number wallows in its Oirishness in an enjoyably silly but wish-I-was-The-Book-of-Mormon way.
The jokes are clearly being updated as they go along, there’s currently a reference to the show’s technical problems. The finale has a quite spectacularly daft twist which some will find hard not to reveal.
The Liam O’ Deary/Dermot O’Leary character (Simon Bailey) is presented as a creepily gushing host, Jordy/Cheryl Cole as nice(ish) but dim and Louis as a geriatric simpleton. But is it really taking the piss out of Cowell or does it slightly worship at his altar? Religious references abound: angels, stained glass windows, choir boys, heavenly descents and ascents, and the thinly-disguised Jedward appear renamed as Altarboyz. Most character names have been changed from their originals, yet the apostolic name Simon remains intact. Judging by the reaction to his presence on Tuesday it’s not that far from the reality. This can only add to the mythology.
No wonder producer Cowell stood and applauded conspicuously at the curtain call, others rose too, mainly for a better view of him. Few appeared to be looking at the stage.
But even the excellent A Chorus Line and brilliant Dame Edna failed to fill the London Palladium and as this specifically lampoons the UK X Factor it’s unlikely to stand a chance attracting foreign visitors. To say it’s much better than Viva Forever! isn’t setting the bar very high and that trod similar, already overdone satirical material too late and failed.
Work obviously needs to be done, not least some trimming, before the critics start to dribble in soon. Simon performs a string of miracles during one of the show’s numbers. Since the real one has admitted to not changing nappies perhaps he has time to turn up and create a buzz every night turning this into a monstrous hit.
Perhaps that really would be a miracle.
For further theatre information on I Can’t Sing! go to www.officialtheatre.com