The Theatreguide.London Review
Soho Theatre Spring 2016
An inventive and thoroughly entertaining salute to a great British eccentric also becomes a panorama of twentieth-century comedy, as one man's story is told through pastiches and loving parodies of the pop culture that shaped him.
And if that sounds even the slightest bit serious and arty, let me rush to reassure you that the show is a hoot from start to finish.
Screaming Lord Sutch was a B-list rock star of the 1960s, notable more for his bizarre Alice Cooper-Marilyn Manson onstage persona than for his musical talent.
But in 1963 he discovered a hobby that was to become his real contribution as a performance artist – standing (Americans would call it running) for political office.
In Britain anyone who pays a relatively small fee can be a candidate in any election, and over more than three decades Sutch stood as a spoof candidate for Parliament more than 40 times.
He rarely got more than a few hundred votes (though others in his Monster Raving Loony Party did win some local council seats). But he did get to stand up there on the platform with the terribly serious Tory and Labour candidates, taking the Mickey out of the whole process.
James Graham, author of such serious political dramas as The Vote, The Angry Brigade and This House, never lets his knowledge of how the system works – and how easily it can be ridiculed – stand in the way of his celebration of this colourful gadfly.
But he goes even further, by invoking the spirits of every comic voice that helped shape Sutch and his times, from the Chaplin films and Christmas pantos he enjoyed as a child, through the Goons, the Carry On films, Pete and Dud, the Pythons, Ab Fab and beyond, and part of the sheer fun of the evening is playing Spot The Reference.
Sutch's beloved mother is a Panto dame, his pre-rock job as a window cleaner is a 'Quick – under the bed, it's my husband' farce from a Robin Askwith Confessions film, raising the funds for his first campaign is a Tommy Cooper magic trick.
A Monster Raving Loony Party conference is a scene out of Hi-de-Hi, standing alongside the serious candidates evokes the famous David Frost 'I look down on him' sketch, and outfoxing bureaucrats trying to stop him requires a Blackadder cunning plan.
And so on, and so on, every pop culture reference apt and delightful, while making the semi-serious point of giving Screaming Lord Sutch his place in a British tradition of subversive comedy.
Samuel James plays Sutch as an irresistibly loony clown on the double mission of exposing the serious politicians as the real fools while also just having fun, while everyone else in the cast ably quadruples and quintuples roles playing Everyone Else.
In the high British tradition of low comedy Monster Raving Loony hides its anarchic intentions until you're laughing too much to be able to resist them.
You might actually come away from this show thinking some serious thoughts about the ridiculous side of the political process. But don't let that prospect scare you away. You will do nothing but enjoy yourself while you're there.
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