Tickle: The Musical
King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 16th October 2019
“the full-on Las Vegas style finale, ‘What Would Julie Andrews Do?’ sends the audience out into the night on a whoosh of feathers, fantasy and fun”
Tickle is based on a true story, and invites the audience into the strange world of competitive endurance tickling. Best friends Chris and Callum, skint and stuck in a boring town, get recruited as a tickle team by savvy businesswoman Davina Diamond, on behalf of her boss Tina Tickle. They quickly rise to the very top and are making more money than they could have dreamed of, but neither the tickling world, nor their friendship, is as straightforward as it seems. Chris Burgess (book, music and lyrics) has fashioned a delightful and playfully sexy new musical from this tale, and his four strong cast, directed by Robert McWhir, and with fabulous piano accompaniment from musical director David Eaton, do him proud.
The show’s opening number – Drab Town – is let down by its choreography, which lacks clarity, but we get a taster of James McDowell’s lovely voice, which only opens out more as the show goes on. This is McDowell’s professional musical debut, and we will most assuredly be hearing more from him. He doesn’t quite convince as a working class lad, however, and as his voice becomes richer and stronger, so his accent morphs back into his native tones. His performance becomes more natural as a result, but his character – Chris – seems to have entirely changed. This lack of consistency doesn’t really matter in the context of this light-hearted musical confection, but is something to watch. Ben Brooker, as Callum, on the other hand, is fully believable throughout, as Chris’ lovelorn best friend, but his vocal strength is inconsistent, and he doesn’t always fully hit his musical mark.
Amy Sutton is terrific as Davina, and owns the stage with sparkling charisma and a powerful, clear singing voice. Her introductory solo – the splendidly funny ‘It’s not Gay’ – gives the show the injection of oomph it needs, and allows it to drive forwards with energy and chutzpah. In this, she is aided and abetted by Rich Watkins, who is a marvellous drag Tina Tickle. Tina is a larger than life, tragi-comic creation, switching between poignant loneliness and battle-axe camp, with more than a whiff of Norma Desmond, and Watkins plays her with delicious performative relish. Tina and Davina are a formidable team, though, again, they are let down by clunky choreography, noticeable especially in their duet, ‘The Tickle Twosome’.
For the most part, the show zips along, and wears its combination of titillation, tenderness and tinsel with aplomb. There are laughs aplenty, and the full-on Las Vegas style finale, ‘What Would Julie Andrews Do?’ sends the audience out into the night on a whoosh of feathers, fantasy and fun. Just perfect to tickle your fancy on a chilly October night.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Peter H Davies
Tickle: The Musical
King’s Head Theatre until 26th October
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
A Night at the Oscars
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Reviewed – 16th February 2018
“a heartfelt tribute, created and delivered, by a team who believe in the power of music to enrich our lives”
With the ninetieth Academy Awards fast approaching, Aria Entertainment is laying on a well-timed celebration of the annual event through song, dance and stories. Charting the ‘Best Song Award’, it is the story of the Golden Age of Hollywood, part celebration and part eulogy: a kind of memento mori to a lost world.
There is so much to cover in one evening that it seems to be an impossible task to undertake, but writer Chris Burgess has a keen sense of balancing the informative with the entertaining. This is not just a shuffle through the pages of the American Songbook, it is also a rapid-fire chronicle (albeit sometimes perfunctory) of America’s social history in the mid twentieth century, and how Hollywood has always mirrored society, rather than vice versa. But let’s not get too bookish; “A Night at the Oscars” is billed as a musical revue, and it is foremost a glorious reminder of the sheer wealth of the songs, composers and craftsmanship that existed in that bygone era.
The four singers have total control over the material. Kieran Brown, Steven Dalziel, Natalie Green and Laura Sillett all effortlessly span the octaves and emotions needed to tackle the likes of Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern, Bernstein (to name just a few) at their best. They each shine individually, but when they are in unison the harmonies are spot on. Accompanied by Musical Director Ben Fergusson on piano, Will Henderson on double bass and Ben Burton on percussion, the combined effect is dynamic and passionate.
There are many highlights, most notably “The Man That Got Away” that closes the first act, and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” which heartbreakingly reminds us of Gershwin’s untimely, early death. Other moments of high emotion, such as the tribute to Charlie Chaplin, are offset by moments of high comedy injected into the well-documented Bette Davis and Joan Crawford feud.
The second act is slightly more fragmentary and we feel that the cast are in a bit of a hurry to reach the end. But in fairness this reflects the changing face of Hollywood. As Hollywood battles with the changing politics and fashions it also has to compete with the legislation that strips if of its monopoly and power. And of course with the birth of television. It is a whole new world, and historically the music suffers too. It is perfectly fitting that the evening’s show ends at 1973. The poignancy of “The Way We Were” rings through the auditorium: an anthem to the sad fact that the traditional ‘Oscars’ song is no more. What happens next is another show entirely.
But for now “A Night at the Oscars” should be enjoyed for what it is. Fittingly it ends on a rousing chorus of “That’s Entertainment”. Entertainment it unquestionably is. It is also a heartfelt tribute, created and delivered, by a team who believe in the power of music to enrich our lives.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Tim Hall
A Night at the Oscars
Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 4th March