Thursday, July 9, 2015

'Flick & Julie: Pop-Up Penny Pinchers' at the Leicester Square Theatre, 8th July 2015


With George Osborne's post budget cackling still echoing down Whitehall and 'No Cuts' protesters gathering in Trafalgar Square, what better time for some 'austerity busting' comedy? Boy oh boy do we need it; rents are climbing, pay is stagnating - my poor wallet's being squeezed ever tighter! I need guidance! I want to wring every last drop of value from my pounds, to find out where the most useful freebies are, to exploit every damn inch of this system.

Ably informing mea re Flick (Beth Granville) and Julie (Mercedes Benson) a double act so classical it borders on the vaudevillian: Julie is the working class straightwoman, Flic is the upper class twit. We meet them in prison; Julie on a six month sentence for stalking 'MoneySavingExpert' Martin Lewis and Flick down for six weeks after ending up as the scapegoat for tax evasion in a swanky company.

After getting out of prison the two have neither money nor jobs. With the stigma of prison dangling over them and long-term unemployment looming, the two decide to take up the cause of Martin Lewis and run 'Pop-Up Penny Pinchers' seminars, doling out their best tips on how to survive with under a torrent of suspended phone contracts, overdraft charges and upset landlords.

This boils down to a series of sketches themed around being poor, offering advice both ludicrous and useful. My favourite was a sequence in which Julie demonstrates practical alternatives to owning an expensive smartphone. This begins with her producing a complex letter-writing kit in order to answer a message, producing a shredder to dispose of an old document and, the punchline, dropping sweets all over the table and smashing them with a club. 

Similar highlights are some pleasantly absurd phone conversations where the two make ridiculous complaints about products. A receptionist at Right Guard is hectored for their "72 hour protection" promise leading to an unwashed and stinking Julie causing a date to run for the hills. In the best, Flick complains about some Prosecco, explaining that it's left her nauseous, with a headache and diarrhoea. And after only three bottles...

It doesn't take long to realise that these two are onto a good thing. They confidently bounce off one another, each and possesses an enviable sense of comic timing. Despite that, there's often the sense that these situations haven't been fully mined for comic potential. The audience chuckles rather than guffaws; the gags sharp but not honed to a razor edge. There's also a few marginally questionable decisions: primarily whether Pulp's Common People, a song about taking a rich girl to a supermarket, needs to be rewritten with new lyrics about taking a rich girl to a supermarket.

Thing is, these are two extremely likeable performers, the audience wants them to succeed, but that dam-breaking moment where we collapse into uncontrollable giggles never quite comes. This is salved somewhat by their politics being on point; their 'act' slightly slips every so often as we get a glimpse of their sincere indignation with the awful way things are these days. 

This is a show devoid of clangingly obvious low points, yet right now it's lacking that certain something that'd propel it towards true excellence. Perhaps it's the pace, perhaps it's the writing, maybe something in performance. Whatever it is I hope they work it out, I'd love to see them again.

★★

Flick and Julie: Pop-Up Penny Pinchers is next on Friday 24th July at the Old Joint Stock, Birmingham then at 10th-30th August at Cowheadgate Space 9 (Venue 32) during the Edinburgh Fringe.

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