“Loud, brash and camp as hell, but not without a sprinkling of heart, tenderness and passion”
January is a dreary old month. The frivolities of Christmas and New Year are a long distant memory. The cold and drizzly rain is disheartening. The short wintry days are a-dragging. But Happily Ever Poofter is here to put some sparkle, sass and serious fierceness into your life. Panto season may just be over, but this foul-mouthed, fairytale/Disney mash up is a delightfully dirty alternative.
Prince Henry comes from a magical kingdom Far Far Away. His main job is to find true love with a beautiful princess, get married, blah, blah, blah, we know the rest. But something the kingdom doesn’t know, is that their handsome prince is in fact… gay (gasp!). Henry is miserable keeping his secret locked in tight, he hates that there’s no one like him around. He wants to go somewhere he can fit in. With the help of his Fairy Godfather, his wish is granted and finds himself transported to the mystical ‘gay scene’. With men after men, parties galore, and the odd “sniff, puff, drink,” Henry seems to be living his gay dream. But not all is what it seems. Finding a happy ever after still proves difficult, and so, Henry’s quest for true love becomes an even tougher challenge, but he’s determined to find answers.
Rich Watkins is highly enjoyable to watch in this one-man show. He makes audience participation a comfortable and somewhat pleasurable experience, even when he’s giving a certain audience member shade. Rich makes the budget set and props a running gag, with his visible costume/character changes hammed up for what it is. He is highly energetic, taking command of the small space. Sweat is literally dripping off of Rich by the end as he vogues and struts around in his thigh-high PVC boots.
With a catalogue of reworked Disney songs, interspersing the performance, this is where a lot of the comedy gold lies. Rich has cleverly rewritten the classic cartoon songs to fit this story, some racier than others. Particular stand outs include Someday My Prince Will Cum, and High Ho(e).
A pleasant surprise is the more serious message the last quarter of the show focuses on, giving the performance a deeper, more layered subtext. Rich quite rightly points out that Disney is still yet to include an openly homosexual character or gay love story in any of their films, proving there is still some glass ceilings (or slippers) yet to smash with making LGBTQ+ a fully normalised and accepted part of society.
Loud, brash and camp as hell, but not without a sprinkling of heart, tenderness and passion. Happily Ever Poofter proves it has more to say than just boys, bars and bondage. And so, remember the Fairy Godfather’s words: we do believe in fairies.
“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.