NUL POINTS! – ⭐️⭐️ – Eurovision season is upon us

Kane Verrall, Marcus J Foreman, Charlotte East, image courtesy of East Photography


by Martin Blackburn

directed by William Spencer

Union Theatre, London – until 20 May 2023

It’s that time of year again….when Eurovision fever grips the nation (or at least for those who celebrate) and taste, restraint and anything remotely beige goes straight out of the window. It can also feel like an early start to Pride season, and William Spencer’s production ticks a number of the boxes that a predominantly gay crowd will look to get filled (behave!) when picking a theatrical night out around the longest running televised annual music competition in the world.

The overall experience is certainly camp: David Shields’s enjoyably garish London apartment design is an eyeful of musical theatre memorabilia (including a poster for cabaret trio Fascinating Aida, one of whose members – Adele Anderson – is in this cast), kitschy wallpaper and fairy lights, and past Eurovision performances run on a continuous loop upon a giant screen in the Union’s bar, which is serving a speciality cocktail of (what else?!) Bucks Fizz.

It looks like the perfect set-up for a night of rainbow-spattered, gay-centric joy, with a trio of drama students (two gay boys, one straight woman) settling down to watch the 2012 contest, buoyed up by Bucks Fizz and bants. Writer Martin Blackburn certainly has a realistic handle on the insecurity and low level jealousy inherent in fledgling acting careers. Josh (a nicely enthusiastic Kane Verrall) has the hots for cute but vacant Daz (Marcus J Foreman) much to the amusement of Kat (Charlotte East, very good) and the party is gatecrashed by stripagram cowboy Ryder (Sean Huddlestan, miscast but investing his character with a lot more charm than he has in the text) who has turned up at the wrong flat. It all feels a bit sub-Jonathan Harvey (who wrote his own, rather lovely, Eurovision tragicomedy Boom Bang-A-Bang seen at the Bush in the 1990s) but it’s perfectly watchable, littered with ESC trivia, musical theatre references and catty one liners (“Less gays have seen Wicked than your arse” is one of the better ones).

Unfortunately though, Blackburn has loftier pretensions. Having hit on the neat idea of making each scene a separate year and a separate ESC watch party to show the progressions and changes in the protagonist’s lives as the years pass (the first half runs through to 2015 while the second half shows 2022-3), Blackburn fudges it by trying to introduce serious themes that the sketchily drawn characters and rudimentary, flavourless dialogue -heavy on cheap jokes but light on illumination- are unable to support. The #metoo movement, suicide, child surrogacy, chronic guilt, celebrating the departed, the decline of the UK in the last twenty five years, all get trotted out and then discarded like so many Union Jack party hats after a festive night out.

Adele Anderson lends a worldweary elegance and wit as Josh’s unlikely mother. To be honest, on press night the usually divine Ms Anderson wasn’t quite on top of her lines, but being word perfect wouldn’t make sense of a character who we are seriously asked to accept is the lady of the manor in an Aberdeenshire estate while also a Eurovision and Strictly obsessive, a serial destroyer of any canapés she puts in the oven (a running joke that never gets past the start line) and the sort of woman who used to get puke-drunk on Malibu in cheap nightclubs, but then mysteriously becomes an online sensation. It may be that Blackburn intended to create an AbFab Patsy Stone type but the writing and performance just don’t deliver that and instead we are left with an accomplished artist struggling, and failing, to join some impossible dots.

There are moments when Spencer’s production veers towards farce but there isn’t the precision in the blocking or the playing to make that work. The plot borrows effectively from a certain long running West End ghost/thriller play (no spoilers here) and ends with an unexpected volte face that, while mawkish, is pretty impressive. Blackburn has a strong grasp of theatricality but doesn’t seem able to decide exactly what his script is supposed to be. It’s not really a comedy (it’s not that funny), it’s not a drama (the characters aren’t well developed enough), and it isn’t joyful enough to be a true Eurovision celebration. There’s a distinct whiff of misogyny about the female characters, which Ms East’s open-faced emotionalism goes some way to dispelling, and the trope of gay men who will shag anything, despite being in a relationship, feels well worn to the point of being totally exhausted.

The game cast work hard but the whole show feels under-rehearsed and uneven. It’s not exactly nul points, but it’s certainly no winner.

Published by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: