The mix of slapstick and sermonising is certainly original: In Bad Taste reviewed

24 October 2020

9:00 AM

24 October 2020

9:00 AM

In Bad Taste

The Space

One Shot; The Fall

Dazed New World Festival

In Bad Taste is a slapstick comedy about five female terrorists who murder the governor of the Bank of England. They chop him to pieces, cook him in a casserole and devour the lot. Their plan is to ‘eat the rich’, literally, and to trigger a worldwide revolution. After this grimly hilarious opening the script takes a sharp U-turn when one of the women makes a speech denouncing misogynists. The others agree to drop the revolt against the wealthy and to hunt down nasty men instead. Each woman suggests a candidate for execution: a male colleague who works too sluggishly, a father-in-law who makes judgmental comments, a drunkard who gropes barmaids.

The killing begins. Nine victims are axed to death and their bodies cannibalised. The police launch a manhunt. But the women take umbrage at this. How sexist! Clearly they’re not an easy group to please. After confessing to the crime, they retreat to a hotel which is surrounded by armed cops. The narrative is interspersed with song-and-dance routines, which are obviously designed to conceal a deeper problem. The story isn’t strong enough. Eventually, the women threaten each other — ‘you’ll be on the menu next’ — and the tale peters out.

After the show, the performers added a disclaimer advising us not to kill each other but to curb misogyny. The mixture of slapstick comedy and sermonising is certainly original but the show feels a little patchy. The performers speak far too fast. Lots of scenes end with all five of them yelling over each other. And the plot doesn’t quite meet the expectations created by the zany, high-concept premise.

On the plus side, the company have lots of charm and warmth. And they throw in improvisations and subtle pieces of stage business that are extremely funny. But their claim to feel ‘rage whenever we enter the stage’ is unconvincing because their rage is snug, cosy and consensual. Rather than mounting a true revolt they’re just reinforcing the egalitarian views held by most playgoers. Do they feel no rage against grooming gangs or the perpetrators of honour killings? They’d make a bigger stir if they targeted their passion at trickier issues that are in greater need of exposure and reform.

One Shot by Julia Szajkowska is about life chances for school leavers. It starts on a note of existential despair. A black teenager from east London sits on a bench and mopes about things. ‘Becoming human was a decision by your parents,’ he grumps. ‘Who you become isn’t really you. Where you end up isn’t your choice.’ He believes he has only three career options: basketball, rap or drug-dealing (‘but I couldn’t break my mother’s heart like that’). He’s visited by a charismatic white seer who explains that every aspect of his life is controlled by secret financiers. ‘They only present three doors. What if I told you they get paid to do so?’ The seer urges him to stop being a victim of the cycle: ‘Break it!’ Which sounds exciting. What can the youngster do? Take up medicine, painting or gardening, says the seer.

The piece becomes more optimistic as the lad’s horizons start to expand. But this is a profoundly gloomy insight into the mindset of young adults. This teenager talks about himself and his friends as if they were locked away in a Siberian gulag. In fact they’re living in a peaceful and prosperous part of east London, which happens to be one the richest corners of the Earth. And it’s bizarre that after 13 years in full-time education he can only imagine himself working in sport, hip hop or narcotics. Where did this pea-brained, self-lacerating pessimism come from? Perhaps life has been too easy for him and his generation. They benefit from political rights and material comforts they didn’t have to fight for but this doesn’t make them contented or grateful, just whiney. It’s hard to sympathise.

Sarita Plowman’s The Fall is an ingenious monologue about a small girl whose mother forgot to take her to the loo before church. Her desperation is sketched out in acute little details. ‘I wriggle and jiggle and begin to shake my foot. I hold it in.’ She tries to concentrate on the reading, which is about the temptation of Eve. ‘I’m desperately trying to focus on everything but my pulsating bladder.’ Her mother spots her discomfort but this makes things worse. ‘She gives me the look. Fear is added to the unbearable burning.’ She imagines herself letting go ‘in mid-sermon’ and ‘in front of Jesus’. Eventually, nature takes its course and the monologue acquires a feminist slant, which it doesn’t need. ‘I howl for all the women who were burned and drowned and stoned.’ That sounds trite compared with the brilliantly observed closing line. ‘I’m quickly changed into some lost property.’

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