Boom Bang-a-Bang

Jonathan Harvey
Love YaFace Productions
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
(2011)

Boom Bang-a-Bang publicity graphic

Boom Bang-a-Bang was a sell-out success at the Bush when it premiered in 1995. It has had revivals since, one at the Etcetera in Camden Town for instance, but this Kentish Town production, in the area where it is set, was my first exposure to it.

The title comes from the song that was sung by Lulu that was the United Kingdom entry for the Eurovision Song contest in 1959 and became joint winner and this is a play built around a group of people who gather to watch the Eurovision show in 1995. You don't have to be a Eurovision freak to enjoy it, though it might give some of the references a little more familiarity, and you don't actually have to sit through even one of the songs. This is about the people who have come to watch, not the competition, though there's plenty of competition going on between them with which it does concern itself.

Scouse host Lee, newly moved into the flat and still recovering from the death of his partner Michael from a brain tumour (though the gossips thought it was AIDS) is keeping up their tradition of a Eurovision party but his guest list is depleted by a rival bash attended by those who thought the mourning mood would be too strong.

Those who have come are not a comfortable crowd, not least because this gay party is being attended by a number of straights which disconcerts the first guest to arrive, camp queen Steph. Adopted sister Wendy is already there and fellow scouser Norman from the next flat is hovering. Pretty little Roy, always opening his Geordie mouth without thinking, and Nick and Tania, a couple having relationship problems, make up the party.

One could quite see why the affair between Michael Absalom's wimpishly vain actor Nick and Michelle Crane's strident Tania is rocky, especially with Daniella Trulock's predatory Wendy ready waiting.

It would be easy to dismiss these characters as a group of gay stereotypes - and so they are, but anyone with the remotest experience of the gay scene will probably know real life versions of them all; Jonathan Harvey has captured them in all their excess and this cast play them true to their real life selves. Why then did I not find this comedy of lovelorn hopes, infidelities and sexual experimentation a barrel of fun?

Neil McCormack's likeably ordinary Lee may be a little nervous because there's not going to be the turnout he expected and Russ Kallan's neighbour Norman may be decidedly undishy but they create a very domestic feeling in this intimate theatre. Perhaps it was that intimacy that soon made me feel I had had enough of this gaggle of people camping things up at full volume, especially as the production sets out to coyly shock with a huge (in every sense) and very explicit Tom of Finland drawing produced at one point and the promise of off-stage flagellatory fun.

This is a very personal reaction, a reminder of how much time and place, as well as the actual performance, can influence response. But the attraction of the brittle barbs of Steve Lorient's Steph and the unthinking charm of Christopher Perry's Roy rapidly wore off.

I feel that being on the other side of footlights in a bigger venue would have made a difference but perhaps this production needed to more strongly signal farce, however true to life it actually is. I am surprised to find myself saying that it would have helped if Benet Catty's production had made me care a little less and encouraged me simply to enjoy the overwrought and escalating awfulness of the situation which is hilarious.

"Boom Bang-a-Bang" runs at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 25th September 2011

Reviewer: Howard Loxton