If I had a pound for every time I've heard "Stand By Your Man" used as an ironic soundtrack up here, I'd have £4. Hull Truck's production of Richard Cameron's very wonderful Can't Stand Up For Falling Down has ditched the original '60s girl-group motif for heavy-handed Country & Western kitsch, while the National Student Theatre Company invoke it briefly but chillingly in Making The Number Up, a bleak snapshot of the underbelly of rural Ulster Puritanism. C&W as a genre spawns an entire play, D.I.V.O.R.C.E.. A knotty interweaving of the lives of a C&W devotee and a fictional star, and of the plot of a six-packs-truckin'-and-tears song, it's sometimes bewildering to follow, but it shows palpable insight into what might be called the pathology of Country & Western.
Straightforward pop provides the basis for Changeinspeak's succinctly titled Pop, a series of vignettes of love, pain and good ol' cheap sex, and the Proustian recollection of these histories as triggered by classic songs. In these days when Simon Bates is under threat of redundancy from Radio One, Changeinspeak are doing their bit to preserve the Our Tune tradition.
Tango's having its moments as well. Yukio Ninagawa's first English-language production, Tango At The End Of Winter, has disappointed many. It's a kind of dramatic suspension bridge – strong and imposing structures at either end with a long thin bit running between them. Less visually captivating, but complex and rigorous in the games it plays with narrative forms, is the Croydon Warehouse's adaptation-cum-homage to Manuel Puig, Lipstick Tango. Although the style settles down into a kind of fragmented chronicle, the performances show the precise over-articulation of tango itself. Sarah Cameron's doubling of Nene (the lover who missed her chance) and Toto (a disturbed, obsessed little boy whose relationship to the main action is never fully explained) is thoroughly arresting.
Chris Lynam's bizarre Lord Byron may well be Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know, but surprisingly makes no use of gunpowder suppositories. In a roughly equal mixture of scripted pseudo-biog and ordinary stand-up, Lynam begins to find himself hampered by the stage persona he has created. What new developments are in store? We wait with tight lips and tighter sphincters.
Against most expectation, Funny - The Art Of Comedy actually was. The plot's almost impossible to describe without using the word "deconstruct": established comedy writer and young hopeful constantly re-jig each other's scenes of a collaborative work, as their characters enact the re-re-writes in an increasingly frenetic and savagely acute parody of Run For Your Dinner Trousers. Not a lavish production, but showing a deal of balls (in every sense).
Comedy-wise, Miles and Millner's new-found fame hasn't in any way changed them from the gleeful bastards they've always been. Sondheim and Lloyd Webber are huge, easy targets – "What's the difference between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Mozart? Mozart was a composer who farted a lot..." – but are dissected with savage musical percipience; and the synchronised-swimming routine remains a wee honey. But the major revelation has been the Big Nazo puppets with their Vision Of Nostrildamus: dramatically a sentimental American revue with an easy green message, but visually a cheese nightmare of the Muppets reinvented by David Lynch. They've already been signed up for a major 1992 West End project, but should be firmly embedded in the grobblier bits of popular consciousness well before then.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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