Monday, July 25, 2016

'Secret Tea & Fantasy' at The Slaughtered Lamb, 24th July 2016

Last night, under a soothing crimson pentagram, I was dragged on stage and made out with a dude. This was my highlight of the inaugural Secret Tea & Fantasy at The Slaughtered Lamb pub in Farringdon; a (mostly) chilled out evening of culture tucked beneath a lovely pub off Clerkenwell Road. Curated by Owain Arthur of 'Under One Roof', the evening features music, poetry, drama, comedy and a smidge of performance art, providing a slightly hungover Sunday audience a refreshing cultural aperitif to prime them for the week ahead. 

I've always liked hanging out at The Slaughtered Lamb. On a base level I dig any pub that takes inspiration from An American Werewolf in London, the place managing to combine great beer and food with off-beat countercultural vibes. Last night we were in the downstairs bar, the tables topped with cast iron teapots and the intimate stage dominated by a gigantic neon pentagram. Owain, compering, assures us that this is not a Satanist evening, though it casts an ominous red glow over the audience and performers throughout.

Thom Allen (FYI it's difficult to take pictures with a giant glowing pentagram in the background)
The evening's theme was 'recovery', the baton quickly taken up by singer/songwriter Thom Allen, who confesses that he "got completely muntered last night". No doubt he wasn't alone in suffering through a headache, dry mouth and aching limbs, so it's small mercy that his performance was a musical Nurofen. Gently jangly, apparently taking influence from Jeff Buckley, it was all too easy to close your eyes and gently bliss out. 

Poet/writer/dramatist Nick Davies was similarly languid, perching atop a stool and delivering two monologues and a poem. The first, from a work-in-progress play about three people trapped in hospital beds was a neatly evocative piece about being restricted in movement, but free in memory. Next was a dreamy poem about life in Chicago and ruminations on American in general, topped off with a gently surreal fable of a homeless man climbing a skyscraper, followed by a short excerpt from a previous play

Nick Davies
It's always nice watching a writer read his own words, especially when he admits that he'd just finished writing it just before he took to the stage. Hearing works in progress, sensing what works and what doesn't, gives us an insight into Davies' creative processes. On another level, it's just damn nice to hang out with an attentive and appreciative audience.

Up next were improv comedy group A Bag of Bees. I've got to admit that  the phrase "improvisational comedy" gives me a mild spine chill, based on painful past experiences. True to form, things start out stilted and the audience remains largely unresponsive. Still, bit by bit there's the odd sharp observation and interestingly bizarre development - enough to make it worthwhile and wring out some chuckles. And hey, I laughed out loud a couple of times, so fair enough.

A Bag of Bees
Due to an act not turning up there's a bit of a lull over the extended interval. Owain does his best to keep us amused, beginning with an initially wavering but eventually broadly successful covers of Radiohead's Exit Music (for a film) and My Baby Just Cares for Me.

Things kick off with a bang as the performance art comedian Michael Clarke takes to the stage to Chumbawumba's Tubthumping. Clutching bottles of spirits and cans of cider and beer, he chaotically chugs them down along with the chorus. And, suddenly so was I.

I usually make it a point to sit in the front row everywhere I go; especially at comedy gigs. I love that sense of danger and paranoia as you worry about whether you're going to picked on. And boy was I picked on here. Clarke dragged me up in front of the crowd and whispered at me to drink along. I managed to get most of a can of Carling down my throat (and some down my t-shirt) before I sat down again, a little relieved that I could get back to my seat and continue quietly taking notes.

But, after an extended reworking of Paul's letters to the Corinthians in the meter of Eminem's Stan, I was back on stage staring at Clarke's puckered lips. Sixpence None the Richer's Kiss Me was lilting through the speakers, he was laying enticingly on the floor next to a picnic basket, the audience were urging me on. What's a boy to do?

So I kissed him. The moment I did so he sprang to his feet and asked me what the fuck I was thinking? I really should have seen this coming. After a little more abuse I sat down on a stool - only to be double-crossed once more by an out of the blue make-out session.. As our beards bristled around our sweaty lips I pondered the path my life had taken for me end up kissing a man in a pub basement to the whoops of a hungry crowd. Oh well, that's showbiz. 

Michael Clarke
I felt pretty brave afterwards for going through all this, but that's nothing compared to the high-wire that Clarke's walking with this act. I can't imagine that just any guy he pulls out of an audience is going to go along with this routine (some people are going to be pretty upset) - but this razor-keen element of risk elevates his act far beyond most comedians. 

Clarke was by far the best act on - the kind of experience that makes these cultural grab-bags worthwhile ways to spend a balmy Sunday evening. After him was Joe Corbin - but I only made it through one song before concluding that grindingly sincere, cod-cowboy emo-blues just ain't for me. 

Secret Tea & Fantasy isn't exactly breaking the mold, but as far as pleasant places to hang out on Sunday evening's go, it's a good 'un. I was a little sorry to miss the final two acts, but I think a four plus hour running time means audiences will pic n' mix what they want to see. It's a fun time. Long may the good ship Secret Tea & Fantasy sail.

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