The Toxic Avenger
Reviewed – 2nd October 2017
“fearless and anarchic and a delightful rebuff to political correctness”
There is the current argument that the West End has become a very safe artistic world; homogenised and unchallenging, with an eye too much on box office sales. A mirror to the world at large, maybe, that is increasingly fearful of saying the wrong thing or offending the wrong person. Whether one agrees with this or not is irrelevant. All I know is that ‘The Toxic Avenger’ has ripped through this fabric of conventionalism and swept into town like an intoxicating breath of fresh air.
On paper it is such a bizarre, off-the-wall idea. One, I suspect, that would not get through the door of a producer’s office. But Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment, has the visionary nerve to grab this beast by the horns and bring it, via Edinburgh and its successful run in Southwark last year, to the Arts Theatre West End. And boy does she do it with gusto!
Based on the 1984 cult film of the same name, with book by Joe DiPietro and music by Bon Jovi band member David Bryan, it is a kind of Incredible Hulk meets Frank-N-Furter musical romp. A story with its tongue literally bursting through its cheek, charting the journey of the eponymous, self-doubting super-hero intent on trying to ‘get the girl’ while simultaneously saving the city from the threat of an evil town mayor. A familiar sounding spoof, but what elevates this musical to the status of masterpiece is its sheer irreverence, daring and unrestrained sense of fun. It is fearless and anarchic and a delightful rebuff to political correctness.
Mark Anderson plays the nerdy Melvin who mutates into the avenging ‘Toxie’, deftly capturing the mix of vulnerability in the former and confused self-righteousness of the monster-on-a-mission in the latter. A devil with the voice of an angel; the entire audience fell for him. On his quest to save the world he enlists the help of blind librarian Sarah, the love of his life (played by Emma Salvo with brilliant comic timing). With her help he very quickly discovers that the town mayor is the ‘bad guy’ (or bad girl in this case), portrayed by Natalie Hope with delicious villainy, yet overflowing with sex appeal. Interestingly she doubles as the hero’s mother – which is used to great comic effect later in the show. But hats off to the two other cast members, Ché Francis and Oscar Conlon-Morrey, who play all the other characters with such dizzying versatility and humour you forget to wonder at how they manage their countless costume changes. Both recent graduates, these are two names to look out for.
I could reel off the highlights of this show but I would be in danger of merely relating the whole story. However the star is the score. Never has pastiche been so expertly delivered. Part of the fun of watching the performance was spotting the myriad musical references, yet the songs still retain an individuality and infectious freshness, with a searing sound from just a four piece band led by musical director Alex Beetschen.
This show is proof that the craziest ideas can yield the best results. It is a show that, from start to finish, never dips. In the opening number the audience are jokingly warned that the performance is eighteen hours long. The irony of this remark is that I really would not have minded if that were true. This is one of those rare productions I could see again and again. I left the theatre with a smile a mile wide. An absolute ‘must see’!
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Irina Chira
THE TOXIC AVENGER
is at The Arts Theatre until 3rd December