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The Great British Country Fete

Russell Kane, songs by Michael Bruce
Bush Theatre
(2010)

Production photo

Fresh from the Latitude Festival in Suffolk, comedian Russell Kane and songwriter Michael Bruce have created a comic confection that happily spends 70 minutes poking fun at some wonderful British traditions, old and new, under the direction of Anthea Williams.

The experience feels like a cross between an updated edition of Round the Horne and the energy and enthusiasm of a show written for youngish children.

Indeed, it would come as no surprise to learn that the performers have in some previous life worked in Theatre in Education, such is their collective rounded skill set and ability to work an audience.

The three actor/musicians recreate the unfortunately-named Suffolk village of Upham. This is the kind of village where, except at weekends, almost all of the inhabitants are toddlers or pensioners.

Upham is personified by Graham Lappin's larger-than-life Farmer Joe, a ginger-haired bumpkin in a cloth cap who rejoices in using unlikely agricultural imagery.

All that Farmer Joe believes in is long gone but the final straw comes in the shape of the unctuous Mr Escot, played by Gabriel Vick. He represents an anagrammatically anonymous supermarket chain that wishes to exchange age-old tradition for their own cut-price imitation.

The pair verbally joust in between what are effectively musical hall turns from various assortments of a trio of performers completed by Katie Brayben (like Vick the possessor of an exceptional singing voice), whose versatility impresses as she plays numerous parts both man and female.

Amongst other local characters (and all the locals are true characters), we meet Pearl the Jam Queen, a spaced out yuppie couple who make the kind of goats' milk yoghurt that could turn any stomach and the farmer's gay son Julian, plus almost inevitably these days the friendly local Eastern Europeans.

They are joined by the nymphomaniac Vicar Valerie and Colin, a simple village idiot complete with stuffed ferret and a heart of gold.

All of this might sound like a recipe for tedium but in fact, thanks to a high laugh ratio, some wonderful pastiche songs delivered expertly by a team who can both sing and play musical instruments to a very high standard, and sheer joie de vivre, it turns out to be a hilarious delight.

In a suitably adorned, grass-filled space, courtesy of designer Fly Davies, the comedy is often laugh out loud funny and occasionally risqué, while the music derides everything from West End musicals to talentless TV generated boy/girl bands.

The plot may have all the depth of a pantomime but that is not the point. Underlying the fun is a much more serious message that we should all take home about the threat of globalisation and the consequent loss of individuality.

Corinne Salisbury reviewed this production at Latitude

Reviewer: Philip Fisher