Monday, May 2, 2016

'Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens' at the King's Head Theatre, 30th April 2016

My life is packed full of consciously important artybollocks. Plays about serious stuff: the kind of thing stern-looking people write opinion columns about in The Guardian. I know that the world is a terrible place and that it's probably getting worse. I know that culture has an obligation to shine a light into dark corners of society. I know that worthy theatre isn't afraid to tackle the depressing, the shocking and the achingly worthy.

But y'know, sometimes you've just gotta disco.

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens is essentially distilled joy. A pleasantly ramshackle sci-fi alterna-musical, it's half pop concert/half night out at the Torture Garden. Set in the titular Saucy Jack's - an seedy intergalactic bar on the wrong side of the space-tracks, we're introduced to its deranged denizens. They range from naive saxophone virtuoso Sammy Sax (Ashton Charge), the tensely German Dr Willy von Whackoff (Tom Whalley) to the comely and ambitious waitress Booby Chevalle (Caspar Cordwell-James). This gaggle of reprobates are bossed about by club owner Jack (Hugh Stubbins), a stout n' sleazy lothario with a penchant for sexual deviancy.

But things aren't been all sunshine and crude innuendos at Jacks. As their cabaret acts are summoned to bigger and better things, they tend to wind up murdered - a high heel embedded in their chest. Who will solve the mystery of the diabolical 'Slingback Killer'? A trio of glitterbooted space vixens of course!

Making a dramatically dry-iced entrance, fully bedecked in rhinestone finery are Jubilee Climax (Jamie Birkett), Anna Labia (Lorna Hall) and Bunny Lingus (Zoe Nicholls). They're Space Vixens - members of a secretive intergalactic society devoted to justice and female liberation. And they kick a whole lot of ass.

As you can probably guess, a show featuring a character named 'Booby' doesn't exactly play things super straight. What transpires is an always funny, sometimes downright hilarious, rollercoaster ride with incredibly weird characters and some impossibly catchy disco-cabaret tunes.

The centrepiece numbers - Glitter Boots Saved My Life and All I Need is Disco - are stone cold classics. They're reprised several times over the course of the evening and are never anything less than a spike of undiluted good times straight to the vein. Helped by a thumping nightclub worthy sound system and a pepped up cast, they're the kind of tunes you find yourself singing away in the shower days after the show.

The solo songs are no slouch either. Two stand out a mile. Hugh Stubbins' gives us a perfectly pitched rendition of Tortured Plaything - a whiningly wheedling anthem to self-pity, overlaid with razor-sharp sadism. Stubbins' Jack is both odious and a monument to charisma, compelling even as he openly manipulates everyone around him. 

It's only slightly knocked into second place by Jamie Birkett's stunning Living in Hell. For a brief moment all the grease and glitz is pushed back and a clear white spotlight shines on Birkett's Jubilee. It's a fragment of sincerity - for a moment the woes of a Space Vixen torn between her intergalactic pledge and a dangerous infatuation feels like the most natural thing in the world.

Stubbins and Birkett are probably the standouts, but there's really not much in it. Everyone in the cast is more than worthy of praise but I'd feel bad if I didn't single out Tom Whalley and Lorna Hall as bringing a pinch of something special to their roles. Whalley possesses an inherently comedic bug-eyed stare and expert comic timing - playing things a bit like Dr Strangelove on speed. On top of that, he marches around with this absurd rubber-limbed gait that makes him look like a cartoon come to life. Hall's similarly hilarious, stuffing her dialogue and motions with oodles of character and energy - I found myself glancing over at her reactions when she wasn't the focus of attention, all which were funny when (I assume) nobody's supposed to be looking.

As the show finishes the night effortlessly segues into an actual disco. Now, generally I'm not a fan of getting out of my seat during the finale of a show - to me it feels like enforced jollity via peer pressure. But in Saucy Jack I was one of the first to my feet, hardly able to wait for the opportunity to progress my incessant foot tapping to some actual grooving.

Saucy Jack is an outstanding show and one that I can't foresee anyone having a bad time at. Every time I've remembered it over the days since I saw it a smile has appeared on my face. If you want to have a guaranteed real good time, check it out.


Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens is at The King's Head Theatre until 21 May. Tickets here.

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