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: