Eurobeat (Almost Eurovision) / Helium
Various venues
September, 2008

Sometimes opinions are radically revised in the course of an evening.  I had seen and enjoyed Eurobeat (Almost Eurovision) on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007, but even so I was shocked and appalled by the regimented attitude taken to whipping up raucous hysteria in the Novello Theatre: doling out badges and flags of the competing nations, and almost compulsory plastic “clappers” (or, in the literal sense, slapsticks, as one colleague pointed out).  I hadn’t encountered such a “mass psychology of fascism” approach to audience enjoyment since the London opening of the Blue Man Group, and at least one other reviewer was so stone-faced by the time he arrived at his seat I half-expected to see moss and lichen growing on his visage.  But the material itself is so sharp that it proves impossible to dislike the show.  So the British entry is undistinguished – when was it last otherwise at the real Eurovision Song Contest?  So the songs in general are less than entirely memorable – name me one memorable Eurovision song that hasn’t been (a) the winning entry, (b) the British entry or (c) “Ring Ring” by Abba (which wasn’t even the Swedish national entry in its year).  …And I suspect this is beginning to suggest that I know altogether too much about the Eurovision contest to be good for me…

Slung Low’s wonderful, intimate show Helium has gone a long way to revising many people’s opinion of the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust awards.  More than one reviewer observes that, in bestowing a grant based on the concept for a production, the risk is run that the actual show turns out to be a failure, and that in the past few years this has been the usual case with OSBTT shows.  In Slung Low’s prime mover Alan Lane, the Trust picked a man who has a record as a theatrical huckster stretching back to his student days, so Helium could have ended up like so many of its award-winning predecessors, but for one important point: Lane is a kind of con-man in reverse – he makes his schemes look and sound like japes, but the guiding principle is that they are enjoyable for their practitioners and spectators alike.  In Helium the dramatic scenes are not at all interactive, but a feeling of direct and personal connection is provided by giving each spectator their individual “guide” from scene to scene.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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