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Too camp for words

PUBLISHED: 16:10 18 June 2008 | UPDATED: 17:26 16 August 2010

JUMBLE?: Betwixt is at the King's Head.

JUMBLE?: Betwixt is at the King's Head.

©ALASTAIR MUIR CONTACT: alastair@alastairmuir.com

THE King s Head Theatre in Islington has hosted many excellent original musicals recently - Sue Kelvin s one woman show The Last Of The Red Hot Momas and

THE King's Head Theatre in Islington has hosted many excellent original musicals recently - Sue Kelvin's one woman show The Last Of The Red Hot Momas and Rough Music, a well conceived look at 19th century working class England, writes Edward Martyn.

Betwixt however does not come near the quality of these shows. Seemingly written by Ian McFarlane as a vehicle for his rather slight performing talents, a narrow, black painted stage with three doors at the back and further Salvador Dali style doors painted on the ceiling does nothing to inspire the imagination. A compact orchestra of three competes with (and sometimes drowns out) the un-miked singers as they perform a stereotyped opening number, dressed in trench-coats and sporting cod American accents.

We are in New York circa 1950 as these 'Reporters' mob the young author Bailey (Stephen Fletcher) trying to find out about his much-hyped new book, which, of course, has not been written yet.

Writers block is not really a very vibrant theme for a play and the absence of a unifying style (Mobile phones were not much in use in the 1950s) destroys the idea of pastiche and relegates this production to the realms of pantomime. Unfortunately, pantomime requires large performances and neither Stephen Fletcher nor Ian McFarlane (as the very camp wannabe actor Cooper) has the ability to deliver. This leaves the rest of the cast to grimace and overact the very slight story line, in an attempt to convince us that there is a show here somewhere.

Uninvited, Cooper barges into Bailey's minimalist N.Y. apartment to help ease his rent arrears and before you can say Alice In Wonderland they discover a small door that leads to the 'Otherworld'. This device was invented many years ago to enliven Celtic storytelling, and shows once again the lack of originality about the script.

The arrival of a wicked fairy and her sidekick ( a Riff Raff look-alike) merely confirms the suspicion that we are at a very early panto, and the intervention of Garbo (Mark Inscoe) and his troupe of travelling players is lifted wholesale from Mr Crummles itinerant troupe in Nicholas Nickleby.

Amy Griffiths charms us as Princess Ariella and Abigail Finley appears as a German accented, disembodied blond head on top of a travelling trunk.

Amanda Symonds pulls out all the stops to ensnare Bailey with her metrosexual nymphs, but our attention is lagging and the credibility gap yawns ever wider.

As Bailey becomes more and more desperate to rescue the princess, the show starts to resemble Dr.Who with music...

Perhaps there is a place for this show on the gay club circuit, but I honestly cannot see what attracted the usually canny management at the King's Head to this jumble of artistic styles.

The programme notes claim that six months were spent 'workshopping' this show; I wonder what on earth they were doing during this elongated period of gestation, apart from stealing ideas from established successes.

* BETWIXT! is at the King's Head Theatre 115 Upper St. N1 1QN, until June 22.

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