Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 5 February, 2010

I hardly ever give one-star ratings in these reviews, and when I do it is in a spirit of angry condemnation. Never before have I awarded a solitary star out of desolate disappointment.
The ideas were there. Theatre company Cartoon de Salvo enjoy playing with dramatic form, site-specificity, improvisation etc. A couple of years ago they played some nifty jug-band musical arrangements as an ingredient in their series of improvised dramas Hard-Hearted Hannah and other stories. From there, why not make the band the subject of the evening? Thus was born One Trick Pony, a mediocre weekend covers combo playing in the actual upstairs room of the pub across the road from the Lyric Hammersmith, and letting their personal and musical tensions show in the course of what was meant to be a good-time evening.
The show itself calls to mind what I think of as the Postmodernist Defence: “Yes, this is rubbish, but we know it’s rubbish and that transforms it into something much better.” Sometimes this is a valid argument, but far more often it merely aggravates the offence. The problem here is simple and stark: whether through misjudgement, under-rehearsal or inability, the de Salvos aren’t good enough to be mediocre. As they trudge their way through a retro set that makes no distinctions of genre – from “Mustang Sally” to “The Final Countdown” by way of “We Are Family” and Marillion’s “Kayleigh” – it beggars belief that a band could have been playing the same songs for 20 years and still be this ropey. Basic guitar and keyboard chording, journeyman drumming, and on “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” director Alex Murdoch pulls off the noteworthy feat of playing bass guitar more primitively even than The Clash’s Paul Simonon.
As a result, when guitarist Richie (Neil Haigh) inserts a wildly out-of-character original number and the resultant spat escalates to his announcement that he’s quitting, it is not that tensions cut through the jolly vibe so much as that the audience’s derisive response to the numbers extends to the personal crises. If the show ran at the expected 75 minutes, it might just have been bearable; an excess of material, plus the initial journey from theatre to pub and (probably) unscripted equipment troubles, meant that at just under two hours it was purgatorial.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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