Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 2 August, 2010

The Bush has become a regular contributor on the theatre bill at the Latitude festival each summer, and brings its festive presentation back into London thereafter. However, offering a wackier version of the theatre’s new-writing identity, as with 2008’s fare 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, is one thing. This year’s show, though, seems to fly in the face of pretty much everything one had thought the Bush stood for in terms of originality, intelligence and care.
Comedian Russell Kane has had a chip on his shoulder about theatre ever since he was heckled during a stand-up set at a student drama festival. His first attempt to show that he could do this stuff just as well as them, The Tragickal Savings Of King Nigel, showed a facility for mock-Shakespearean stylings but a lack of content. The Great British Country Fête is staggeringly vacuous, being composed simply of a string of hackneyed, stereotyped character sketches, interspersed with Michael Bruce’s songs. The latter are generally more inventive, but have little enough to work with. The opening number rhymes “Upham”, the name of the fictitious Suffolk village under threat from Tesco and holding a fête in protest, with “up ’em”, as in “We’re going to stick it...”. It’s a predictable gag (as soon as I saw the name, I wondered how long it would take to crack it: the answer was around 70 seconds), but not a good one even the first time, and when repeated a couple of dozen times it gets old very quickly.
Upham is in East Anglia but the villagers speak with West Country accents. The village is populated by a fascist jam-maker, a couple of yuppies-on-the-land, a vicar who is two clichés in one being both a kiddy-fiddler and a trendy woman, a farmer’s Brighton-obsessed gay son and, yes, a couple of pretentious ex-art students. Graham Lappin, Gabriel Vick and Katie Brayben get behind the material but know that this will not be one of the highlights of their CV. I laughed twice, once being at Vick’s comic melisma rather than any of the writing. At least it lasts a bare 65 minutes, even including the gratuitous techno encore. That heckling drama student really was quite prescient.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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