Udderbelly's Pasture, Edinburgh
August, 2010
**** / **

Music theatre has in recent years established a major presence on the Edinburgh Fringe (although this year its dedicated venue in George Square has vanished). Yet 2010’s likely hottest ticket in that department may owe only part of its desirability to matters musical. There will be people booking for Five Guys Named Moe because they want to see Lester Freamon from HBO’s The Wire, who have no idea of Clarke Peters’ long and distinguished music-theatre pedigree, nor yet who Louis Jordan was. Peters put together this tribute to 1940s jump blues giant Jordan some 20 years ago (it won an Olivier award in 1991), and now it has been revived for its anniversary, returning to its home stage on the Theatre Royal, Stratford East next month. The 90-minute sprint version on show in Edinburgh does not lose much of substance; most compilation musicals are not exactly burdened with profound, complex scripts. But we get the point, and certainly the energy, as contemporary no-hoper Nomax is visited in a drunken sleep with sage advice by figures from his favourite Jordan records. Peters, as Nomax, lets the Five Guys dominate, and after all this time Paulette Randall’s production remains a zoot-suited slice of feelgood.

Some of Jordan’s numbers are casually misogynistic, but next door to Five Guys on the Underbelly’s Bristo Square campus is a show that does not realise its own flaws. Lovelace: A Rock Musical will attract late-night punters hoping for some drunken nudge-nudge chuckles; they will be disappointed. This sung-through biography of 1970s porn legend Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, plays little for laughs, which is admirable, but gets even fewer when it does try. It does not stint in its account of the violent, chemical and sexual abuse to which Lovelace was subjected, nor in its condemnation of her being exploited as a sexual icon. However, in as much as this show is entirely unauthorised by her surviving family, it hypocritically indulges in exactly the same kind of exploitation itself. It is composed by two women but “conceptualized” by a man, whose lyrics show the metrical awareness of a breeze-block; a deep vein of unintended irony runs through the whole project. This show – I use the following term advisedly – sucks.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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