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Home > Culture and Society

TFT Goes To Edinburgh... Week Four

20 August 2004

I have been assaulted, raped and sullied by a show.

The show in question is 'The Crooked Mirror Cabaret' presented by London's Whoopee Club, whose publicity promises that burlesque is fashionable once more.

God help us if this is true.

Imagine the most horrific thing you can envisage on a stage. Then multiply it by ten. And add nipple tassels.

I have never seen so many talentless acts (and indeed fake penises) in such a short space of time. Some of them were so awful that they started to make the drag queen who was compering the thing look like a quality artiste. The best thing on display was the glitter ball.

I feel I would have enjoyed the whole thing more if I was a repressed Victorian gentleman in a foreign country with several gallons of tequila inside me. Distressingly, the cabaret bar was packed with leering men who seemed to be in pretty much that state of mind.

Not that I'm bitter that the Uncertainty Division is doing an earlier cabaret show in the very same space and we're not exactly filling the bar to capacity. That we are performing material of a very fine quality is clearly not the point - what we need, evidently, is nipple tassels and a glitter ball.

Another assault on the senses, though less traumatic and featuring fewer nipple tassles, was a piece of drama called 'Disco King'. Some reviews have applauded its head-on tackling of the gritty reality of discos, dancing and drug culture. I say it's pretentious crap. The script is a mess of repetitive quick-fire poetical soliloquising and strings of rhyming words, as if Tony Harrison and Dr Seuss had hammered out a script together whilst on speed. The cast performed it brilliantly, but as the most profound thing it had to say was 'drugs make you happy, but then they make you sad', I felt vaguely insulted - what, aren't fringe audiences mature enough to cope with the idea that maybe it's a teensy bit more complicated than that?

But I haven't just been seeing terrible shows. Actually, I was fortunate enough to have a ticket for one of the performances of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' that wasn't cancelled. And for a show that has had to deal with its director walking out and its star getting chicken pox (with 'complications'), it was prettyimpressive. Not flawless, but the adaptation is good, the ensemble acting brilliant, and the now less pox-ridden Christian Slater perfect in the lead role. It's transferring to the West End - get your tickets now.

As a little group from the Uncertainty Division went to see it, we wondered how long it would be before the theme of mental illness was incorporated into our own show. In fact, the Cuckoo's Nest Syndrome crept up on us rather unexpectedly.

What we had was a rather charming story about some squirrels helping an unhappy clown relearn his old skills so that he could go back to the circus. All was going well and the audience were laughing a lot.

Suddenly, one of the characters developed into a psychopath and quite unexpectedly started killing squirrels and people indiscriminately. An escapologist, who might still have saved the day, was then arrested instead of the psychopath (if escapologists will go around wearing strait jackets, you can see how this kind of misunderstanding might occur). The clown was left with nobody but the psychopath for company, and consequently committed suicide.

Of course, this was all brilliant, because the audience were as surprised as we were. And to give them something really funny then suddenly turn it into something very unpleasant - well, to my mind that's what improv is all about.

The show in question was seen by the director of the current Cambridge Footlights tour, who apparently commented that he thought we should have pre-rehearsed more of it, as 'the bits we'd obviously prepared worked really well'.

I am now very curious to know which bits he thought we'd prepared.

On that subject, I should just draw a comparison with 'Paul Merton's Impro Chums' (please somebody reassure me that the use of the word 'chums' is meant to be ironic), who have been getting reviews saying things like 'no doubt it will be different every night, because they make it all up on the spot'. Why is it that nobody doubts the veracity of their improvisational pedigree, but our reviews spend most of their column inches saying that they don't believe our show to be improvised?

Is it (he wonders, hopefully) that Paul Merton's impro chums are actually not very good at improvisation, so it's just obvious that it's all being ad-libbed?

The more convincing explanation is that it's simply shoddy journalism. But such shoddiness is nothing to the shoddiness we have witnessed this week from the Scotsman.

The Scotsman asked us for a witty column on dealing with emergencies, and we were only too happy to oblige. An article was submitted under the name of 'the Uncertainty Division', although it was actually penned by cast member Phil Stott, as he happened to be in the flat when the Scotsman phoned and set a rather tight deadline. The Scotsman were directed to our website for photographs of us.

Our website contains all of our publicity materials, including the poster for our cabaret show, featuring a photograph of a girl called Christine Twite. She is not in the show, we used her because she looks nice.

Some hack obviously decided that she looked so nice that she should represent the Uncertainty Division in the Scotsman, because when our column finally appeared Christine's pretty face was beaming out at us above it - and the article was credited to 'Ally Glennon'. Evidently, whoever chose Christine's face decided that they needed a female name to match it.

In our cast we have a girl called Ali Glennon. She is our ally, but that is not how to spell her name. So we have an article credited to a typing error who didn't write it and with the face of somebody who is not even in a show.

If only I'd thought of getting Christine Twite to wear nipple tassels, this mistake might have worked in our favour...

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