Part One: "Zombie Toenail FM In My Ladies Chamber!"
October 2005... Not a particularly memorable month by any means. Warmer than most and the leaves in the trees were showing little sign of making their customary descent to the ground by way of heralding the onset of colder weather and those leaden skies of Winter that we are all accustomed to. However, this month was rather special in one respect that it was designated as a month when certain charities were brought to the fore and in this instance, it was time to 'Think Pink' as Breast Cancer charities were brought into the spotlight. To inject some harsh reality into what would otherwise be a light-hearted review for this site, let me ask you... how many of you who are reading this review have had a family member or friend who have been touched by the dread hand of cancer in one of its forms and the ensuing heartache of the afflicted one breaking the news to ones family and friends, under going endless visits to hospital for either drastic surgery, hormonal, radio or chemotherapy, all the while facing an agonising wait to see whether the treatment they have received will send the disease into remission?Cancer is not just a disease that affects one person... it affects all those who the sufferer holds dear. Trust me, I know...
'The Big Pink Fluffy Bouquet Variety Show!!' was held in order to highlight all the UK's cancer charities battle against what is fast becoming the UK's biggest killer in women of all ages and to promote understanding of a disease which is still somewhat shrouded by taboo and ignorance.
If I can ask you all to cast your collective minds back to the Summer of this year and imagine the following scene... a pleasant summers afternoon spent in the Fitzroy Tavern just off Tottenham Court Road. Admittedly the memories of that afternoon are slightly shrouded in the delightful mental fog of over-consumption of pints of cider , bitter and red wine. One Heather Allen, who has been a good friend to the family Dunn and my colleagues on this site;Tony Gallichan and Adam Purcell since those rose-tinted, science-fiction convention-laden days of the mid 1980's (cue Heavenly choir for the sake of my esteemed colleague, Tony Gallichan), was talking about staging an amateur dramatic event for later on that year. Tony and Keith readily offered any assistance that they might have to offer...
Quantum Leaping forward in time 3 or 4 months... a warm Octobers afternoon sees Adam and myself waiting patiently at Three Bridges station for a train up to London. Keith and Tony had made their way up to our fair nations capital 4 hours earlier as they needed to be at the rehearsal session in order to fine tune the elements of their act along with all the others who were appearing on the bill that night.
After spending a few pleasant hours in central London doing some retail therapy, it was time to make our way over to North West London and the Cockpit Theatre. This theatre, judging by its external appearance, was built in the late 1960's/early 70's and serves as a venue for fringe theatre and amateur dramatics. It is built around a studio-style auditorium that could comfortably hold about 150 people in a seating pattern surrounding the performing area on 3 sides.
Without further ado, the house lights dimmed and the hostess for the evening, a young lady by the name of Karen Cockfield made her way onto the floor to kick off the nights proceedings. From what I have been told, our hostess Karen is making a name for herself on the London alternative comedy circuit and she had an abundance of witty one-liners and pithy put-downs for those in the audience who dared cross her path. Upon making her introductions and bidding us all a warm welcome, she introduced the first act of the evening.
First up was an unusual act who called himself 'Zombie Toenail FM'. As it was nearing Halloween, it was no surprise that one of the acts ought to have a had a slight touch of the night about it. What came on first presented a faintly surreal air to the proceedings for the next few minutes. I suppose ZT FM looked slightly like a zombie with his stained and discolored toe and fingernails and blackened rings under his eyes but one could not help but think that he looked like a more animated and sentient version of Ozzy Osbourne complete with fluorescent orange wig. Out he shuffled onto the floor to sing a suitably haunting (no pun intended) and rather amiable version of the Martha Reeves and The Vandella's hit song; 'Dancing In The Street' despite his rather jarring and musty appearance and the fact that he held his arms out in front of him in the best tradition of all self-respecting zombies.
Next up, after some scenery and music-stand shufflings were the Baroque Chamber Quintet called 'My Ladies Chamber'. For all of you who are familiar with this style of music, it is a slight variation from the traditional chamber quartets as a female singer was also in presence, and they did their rendition of 'By Purling Streams' by William Croft and 'Clarinda' by William Flackton. Both these songs were written in the late 18th century and the latter deals with a young lady considering whether to allow her young beau access to her living chambers and the ensuing high-society scandal that would surely follow. Pretty strong stuff back in the late 1700's but now are seen as slightly quaint and whimsical nowadays.
A strong ripple of applause followed their finishing and departure off the floor and our hostess with the mostest came out and introduced the next act which was Staggering Stories very own Keith Dunn and Tony Gallichan masquerading as Lord Macfadyan and his fawning and overweening sidekick and gentleman's gentleman;Richard Whovian OBE. They were there to tell the rousing tale of the dashing Prince Peladon and his search for a beautiful and nubile bride. Lord Macfadyan would be the narrator of the story and Richard Whovian OBE would provide visual props 'for the hard of thinking' which included a magnifying glass, a pair of binoculars, a scuba-divers flipper, a false nose, a rather large and sharp broadsword and accompanying bodily motions and gestures. Tony recited the tale with gusto and Keith became even more frenetic in his waving of props around, culminating with him venturing gleefully out into the audience to find the 'fair maiden' that the shoe (flipper) shall fit and after much grabbing of female feet to try the size of the flipper, a suitably comely maiden was escorted out onto the floor for Prince Peladon to claim as his bride. After restraining the urge to stand up, shout 'Hurrah' in stout tones and to slap ones thigh, we all gave them a hearty round of applause as they took their bow and made their farewells.
After the scenery movers and performed their arcane practices, our hostess introduced a diminutive lady, featured in the program as Cherry, to sing "On My Own" from the West End musical 'Les Miserables'. For those of you who are familiar with the plot of the musical, the song concerned was sung by a young street urchin called Eponine declaring her unrequited love for Marius, the handsome young man who is in love with Cosette, a young woman who is the ward of Jean Valjean, the hero of the story. Illuminated by a solitary blue spotlight, she gave a suitably impassioned performance and it was clear that it was one of her favourite musical songs as she clearly poured a lot of her heart and soul into the song.
After such a heartfelt outpouring of ill-starred passion, it was time for a little light relief in the shape of Netty Rhodes and Heather Allen performing a sketch penned by Karen Dunn;contributor to Staggering Stories, local newspaper sub-editor and loving spouse of the aforementioned Keith Dunn. The sketch was all about the burgeoning sub-culture of designer gear-wearing, chain-smoking, buggy-pushing teenage single mothers and their shambling Neanderthals of boyfriends that just generally act as the donators of the genetic material responsible for all the little 'Tyrone's' and 'Chardonnays' we see loitering menacingly around convenience stores of an evening. It was portrayed as two single mothers, resplendent in their fake designer tops and appalling low-cut jeans revealing the skimpiest of thongs, sitting on a park bench, sharing a packet of cigarettes and idly discussing what they had been up to as they watched their charges happily vandalise a council childrens playground. The dialogue contained such revealing insights into their minds as:
"Chelsea, that's a pretty name..."
"Yeah, it's where she was conceived..."
Pause for thought before another pearl of wisdom is delivered.
"Me an' my Kev, we're thinkin' about tryin' for another kid . Bluewater seems a good name for a boy... . "
Looking over into the middle distance, she shouts at one of her kids tagging a children's slide with an aerosol can : "Oi, you're not spelling French Connection UK properly"..."An' as for that uvver word, the U and the C go the uvver way around!
Heather and Netty did a sterling job in portraying what is fast becoming our burgeoning upper class, resplendent in all their shabby glory and earned quite a few belly laughs from the audience in the process.
Our increasingly husky-voiced compere made her way onto the floor again and heralded in the next act which was to raise quite a few eyebrows amongst members of the audience... .
Whenever you think of female piano and singing duets, you automatically think of the genteel humour of Hinge and Bracket. Clad primly in their Edwardian starched linen and corsets and with their prissy but cutting remarks to each other. 'The Essential Nutrients' continued with this same vein of humour but brought it into the 21st Century by the vocalist; Krysia Mansfield, lustily singing about how any foodstuffs heavily laden with sugar and carbohydrates can drive her into paroxysms of delight and how a humble packet of Custard Creams can carry her to previously unscaled heights of pleasure. Her partner in crime;Aimee Green, had a merry old time tinkling away on the ivories and providing backing vocals and at a conveniently placed break in the song, brought Krysia back down to Earth from her Olympian delights with a bump by pointing a loaded banana at her to show she meant business!
Eventually, their lusty performance shuddered to a halt amongst much heavy breathing and perspiration. Forget Viagra... If a packet of biscuits can make me look like an ardent Lothario to even the most unyielding maiden, then Sainsburys will have to restock their shelves pretty sharpishly. Taking a break from such Saturnalian pleasures, the next act was a young lady called Lauren O'Medal who came on stage to delight us all with two self-penned songs. The first of which was 'Wish You Peace' showing that the open hand of friendship was infinitely preferable to the closed fist of hatred, which was then followed up with 'Weave Me A Dream'. The latter song fervently wishing that dreams and the good intentions that they carry could become the stuff of reality
The lights came up and the majority of the audience made their way to the bar for a well-earned aperitif and to chat about what had just transpired. A raffle was also held in the bar area as well, providing a wealth of prizes from numerous sponsors. I was fortunate enough to win £30 of Selfridge's gift vouchers and a rather sizable bag of coffee, mostly down to the fact that one of the major sponsors of tonights event was Starbucks coffee. Adam was also lucky as he won a bag containing a rather mixed affair of Playstation2 games and a selection of Indie band CD singles. I think I got the better draw as Adam does not drink coffee and his musical tastes veer more towards the classical. Nevertheless, it was a good occasion for people to shout : 'Yesss!' in glee as they found out that they had a winning ticket or groaned despondently as they saw they were only a couple of numbers out from winning a prize. It was also an opportunity for Adam and myself to catch up with Keith and Tony and to see what they had experienced during their act.
Keith had freely admitted that this was the first time he had performed the 'Prince Peladon' sketch since the mid '90's in front of a crowd of fellow Doctor Who fans at a convention, and confessed that up until five minutes before he and Tony were due to go on, he had felt fine until the icy hand of stage fright had closed around his vitals and crushed them to the size of an acorn... Speaking from personal experience and the fact that the last time the author of this review had trod the boards was during a primary school Nativity play where he portrayed a very Upper Norwood-ish Joseph, , one could only sympathise and offer Keith and Tony, who had gone outside for a much needed cigarette, a hearty pat on the back and to tell them that they had gone down a storm with the audience. Keith wanted to know how the performance had gone as he was still on a slight adrenaline high and it was down to Adam and myself to tell them that they had delivered a faultless performance. Tony, being his usual affable and open self, was probably outside the stage door, puffing away contentedly on a roll-up and regaling any passers-by with a full-blown account of how he delivered his narration in booming Patrick Stewart /Jean-Luc Picard Shakespearean tones... ...
Part Two: "Does Your Mother Know Lord Macfadyan?"
ABBA-ABBA-DOO!!!Yes folks! The first act in the second act was a chance to relive those moments from the mid 1970's when sartorial taste took a steep nosedive into oblivion and gave birth to one of the most infuriatingly catchy and enduring groups ever to grace the pop music charts and fill the dance-floors. Netty Rhodes and Heather Allen took to the floor again, suitably attired in wigs, silver hotpants and stack-heeled boots, assuming the alter-ego of 'Does Your Mother Know' for rousing renditions of 'Mama Mia' and 'Gimme, Gimme, Gimme'. Copying the stances that Agnetha and Frida made their own back in those rose-tinted days, they had all of us clapping along and wishing we were 25 years or so younger, dressed in those horrific excuses for fashion such as velvet jackets, flared trousers and wing-collared shirts. During the course of the act, Agnetha and Frida (sorry, Netty and Heather) ventured out into the audience to look for suitable substitutes for Benny and Bjorn to complete the act. Two likely candidates were pulled out onto the floor and one was presented with a toy plastic guitar and the other with a hand-held Casio keyboard so that they could mime and sing along with the ladies
The next act was something more culturally inclined and classically orientated in the shape of the act "Night And Day". I have always had a liking for more Juno-esque figured women and was very pleasantly surprised when a woman by the name of Sian-Elizabeth Rees, fetchingly clad in a wrap-around white dress and her male colleague by the name of Joe Conway, elegantly dressed in a black dinner jacket and bow tie, came out and promptly treated us to some very well-rendered operatic offerings. Sian had obviously been trained as an operatic singer and she certainly made some pint glasses in the adjoining bar tremble lustily in anticipation of a good shattering. She could reach and hold some very high notes as befitted her status as a Soprano singer and I was very taken aback and took great pleasure from the performance. 'Don Giovanni's 'Vedrai Carino' and 'Ach ich Fuhls' from 'The Magic Flute' came first, swiftly followed by 'The Laughing Song' from Strausses 'Die Fledermause'. To cap the cultural proceedings off, a rousing rendition of ' Oh mio babbino caro' from Puccini's 'Gianni Schicci' finished off an unexpected but very welcome operatic offering.
Even before the lights had come up and our hostess with the mostest had an opportunity to come back on stage and announce the the next act, Staggering Stories very own Tony Gallichan strode purposefully on stage to deliver the next section of the second act.
In contrast to the assorted pop music, operatic warblings and general silliness that preceded him, it was time to lower the tempo somewhat and curl up in your favourite metaphorical armchair with a steaming mug of Horlicks for story-time and enjoy Tony's semi-soporific recital of 'Mr. Dalek Discovers The True Meaning Of Christmas'
This story was penned a few years ago by Karen Dunn and is featured on the 'Staggering Stories' website. I will not go over details of the story as you are readers to this website and should therefore be familiar with the story. The accompanying musical score was written and orchestrated by Tony and it provided a suitably Yuletide back drop for the comical events that unfurled in the story. There were quite a few titterings from the audience as Mr Dalek repeatedly exterminated everything that got in his path , and before we knew it, Tony had finished his recital and was taking his bow.
The next act proved that there is nothing so valuable as experience. When Adam and myself turned up at the theatre, Tony was outside the stage door having a chat with the evenings next act. Warren Bradshaw has obviously had prior experience in entertaining audiences and was telling us about his time performing in cabaret acts on cruise liners and it was evident by the way he took to the stage, leisurely sat down on a stool provided and sung Bette Midler's: 'The Wind Beneath My Wings' and another composition by the name of 'When You Tell Me That You Love Me'. It was obvious that he was accustomed to performing in front of large audiences and was perfectly at ease in performing in more intimate surroundings. .
More comedy in the shape of 'The Dinner Date' followed on from Warren. For those of you who have experienced the snake pit that is modern dating, this sketch follows a very geeky and awkward young man, complete with trousers that were a tad too short and a dinner jacket that was slightly too snug fitting, as he meets his date for the evening;the archetypal upwardly-mobile female harpy who has a mobile phone constantly glued to her ear and is only interested in a man for the size of his portfolio. The dinner date proceeded more along the line of a job interview with the young man being put through his paces in whether he was up to the job of 'Head Of Sexual Services and Pleasure' to the aforementioned young business-woman. The act culminated with the awkward young man, sick and tired of the way the date was going, throwing aside his meek and mild person and assuming the guise of a rampant sex god, something of a contradiction in terms as he was wearing novelty socks under his high-riding dress suit trousers...
As the show was drawing to a close, The opening act : Zombie Toenail FM shuffled out onto the stage with the diminutive singer Cherry in tow to perform Francis Kenny's 'We Are One'. Never a stranger sight was seen in the annals of amateur variety shows as ZT FM, complete with a cobweb-festooned straggly black wig, black leather jacket and a general aura of decay about him sung a perfect counter melody to Cherry who was clad in a simply designed silk evening gown. I must confess that it was a touching sight and had more than a hint of Beauty And The Beast about it as they gazed lovingly into each others eyes as they sung the song.
Finale time and Netty and Heather took to the floor for the last time as their Swedish popster alter-ego's: 'Does Your Mother Know' for a rousing rendition of 'Dancing Queen' with the assorted ensemble of the other artists providing backing vocals and a chorus line and by the time they had finished, everyone was up on their feet and clapping enthusiastically in time.
As Heather was the guiding light in organising the show, she was hauled out to the front of the stage by her co-performers in order to receive a bouquet and a hearty round of applause for the stirling work she had done in organising the show, gathering the acts and all the other things involved in staging a show in such a short space of time. However, a big thumbs-up and hearty cheer must go to all the other performers and all those others who acted behind the scenes in order to make such a worthwhile show become reality.
So Think Pink and feel Fluffy all over as you get a pleasant glow after helping in your own small way and contributing to making this disease which could afflict any of us, at any time in our lives, a thing of the past...