The Toxic Avenger**** (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: April 27, 2016 in Theatre

toxic avengerThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

The Garden State has little need to import weed killer. Tromaville, New Jersey (pop 15,000) is, we are told, the toxic chemical capital of the world and this spoof rock musical looks set to put it right on the map. The show’s origin pre-dates modern pollution concerns, going back to a 1954 B movie. This musical version, a collaboration between dramatist Joe DiPietro and Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, first appeared in New Jersey in 2008, transferring to off-Broadway a year later. But is London ready for another musical about nuclear contamination so soon after Miss Atomic Bomb? The answer is emphatically “yes”, because this one hits its targets bang on. Poking fun at itself relentlessly and turning its low-budget shortcomings into assets, this is the near-perfect tongue-in-cheek fringe show and it should be going the rounds for years to come. Melvyn Ferd III (Mark Anderson) is a teenage nerd, besotted with librarian Sarah (Hannah Grover) who finds him ugly even though she is blind. “When your face is so decayed, it’s hard to get laid” he sings. Rejected by Sarah, Melvyn pursues his other goal – to take on Tromaville’s evil Mayor (Lizzii Hills) and rid the town of all its other contaminated substances. In response, the Mayor’s heavies dump him into a vat of green slime and he emerges as the mutant superhero of the show’s title. Sarah falls for his new muscular frame and, unaware of his real identity, she believes him to be French and gives him the name “Toxie”. Anderson and Grover are both splendid, but, it is often the supporting players that steal the show. Hills doubles up as Melvyn’s mother and is thrown the challenge of a duet between Mayor and Ma in which the two hurl insults at each other. Hills turns this number (subtly titled Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore) into an hilarious showstopper. Equally astonishing are Ashley Samuels (“Black Dude”) and Marc Pickering (“White Dude”), who seem to play at least half the population of Tromaville. The fun here is guessing who they could turn up as next and wondering how they can achieve the countless quick costume changes, Benji Sperring’s constantly inventive100mph production never flags and, if anything, it gains in strength as it progresses. A torrent of quick-fire gags and a steady flow of Bryan’s very Bon Jovi-ish rock anthems prove more than enough to detract from the absurdities of the plot. Musical Director Alex Beetschen’s five piece band makes a rousing sound and the designs of Mike Lees (set and costumes) and Nic Farman (lighting) complement the music and story with images of a contaminated, smoke-filled urban wasteland. The Toxic Avenger is woefully short on ideas for cleaning up the planet or reversing global warming. Simply, it offers two in-toxic-ating hours of superhero superfun and, as such, it is pretty hard to beat.

Performance date: 26 April 2016


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