Never Try This At Home*** (Soho Theatre)

Posted: April 5, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

The 1970s once seemed such a jolly decade with brightly coloured outfits, flared trousers, mop haircuts and Abba. Sadly, the light entertainment industry of that era. particularly television, has appeared in a much murkier light in recent times. This show looks at Saturday morning television of 40-ish years ago from a modern perspective. It replicates the fun, but, rather than wallowing in nostalgia, it reflects on some of the darker undertones. The show’s framework is provided by “Looking Back (together)”, a trashy programme with a self-explanatory title – this week’s subject is Kids’ telly (next week it is the Khmer Rouge) – in which presenter Niall Ashdown (the performers use their own names for their main characters) focusses on a fictional BTV (Birmingham Television) show called “Shushi”, devised by a channel that was in a tiswas over how to challenge a ratings topper fronted by a bearded gentleman who later went on to present “Meal Or No Meal”. Running for several years, “Shushi” was an anarchic, slapstick show which featured segments such a “Kick the Vicar” and “Make Your Own Dog”, with guest appearances by prominent pop stars and Queasy the Cat. It all came to a catastrophic end on 8th March 1979 when, after Phil Collins had finished miming to his latest hit, presenter Petra Massey stripped, smothered her body with baked beans and tried to hang herself, all live on air. We are told that television was never the same afterwards and that nothing ever went out live again. So pies collide with faces, buckets of water are poured over heads, bodies crash to the floor and it is all mildly amusing. Of course, too much repetitive slapstick becomes tiresome just as quickly now as it did in the 1970s, but the success of this show comes with the dimension added by its retrospective view, without which it would be as weightless as one of the many plates of foam flung around during its course. The stars of “Shushi” appear in 2014 as a disillusioned bunch of failures, but we are led to believe that they could hardly be otherwise when their lives have been tainted by a show which was built on foundations made of what now look like bullying and ritual humiliation, ingrained with sexism and racism. Okorie Chukwu, Stephen Harper, Dudley Rees and Ged Simmons make up the numbers of an energetic cast who all strike the right balance between zany comedy and pathos. 40/50-somethings will have watched shows like “Shushi” in their formative years and may now ask whether they are themselves tainted by them. Or perhaps they might congratulate themselves on belonging to a generation that brought in more liberal social views and ask whether these shows helped to highlight the need for changes of attitude. Never Try This At Home is lively entertainment, but it also provides food for thought.

Performance date: 3 April 2014

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