Fashion Victim – the Musical!: daft camp with a warm heart

Plus: The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is worth the slog

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

Fashion Victim – the Musical!

Cinema Museum, until 5 July

The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tricycle, until 26 July

Fashion Victim — the Musical!. There’s a title that’s been waiting to be used for ages. The Cinema Museum is a frumpy warehouse, tucked away in a Kennington backwater, crammed with big-screen memorabilia. A cobwebby salon fitted with a catwalk serves as the theatre. Charmingly camp Carl Mullaney kicks things off by introducing the cast as if they’re already Hollywood legends. Which they are. In their heads.

The storyline is eccentric and a little out of step with the world it seeks to mock. A Canadian wannabe, Mimi Steel, descends on London determined to become a superstar. She seduces a Parisian hunk, Cedric Chevalier, whose list of contacts is sufficiently high-powered to confer success on anyone. Mimi nicks his address book and persuades his VIP chums to help her launch her career with a new charity bracelet. But her master-plan implodes when the Fashion Police raid her launch party and arrest her for ‘wearing a fleece without a licence’.

Sounds pretty clunky? That’s deliberate. And the acting is heightened to the point of absurdity and beyond. The handsome performers strut around the catwalk, pouting and sneering, and cranking out smart, brittle wisecracks. ‘A girl’s got to thrust to earn her crust,’ says a starlet. And she illustrates her point with a groin-ram that could shatter a roof tile. It’s all presented as an elaborate in-joke. ‘We’re too smart to care about these flimsy airheads or their silly plans,’ wink the actors. Fair enough. But a great musical makes the audience care passionately about the characters and their destinies. And if you dispense with those golden assets you give yourself a massive deficit to make up.

There are compensations. The music is good. Some is excellent. Tunesmith Toby Rose knows how to bang out a big show-stopping number as well as a sweet, melancholy ballad. A leggy quartet of dancers provides an amusing pastiche of MTV grinding and writhing. The two females are lovely to look at but both the males are carrying spare poundage. (Lads, you’re in your twenties. You’re flashing your pecs on stage. Keep the biscuit tin shut.) James Wilkinson, who plays Cedric, may be a find. He’s as handsome as Errol Flynn and he’s got the graces and the comic notes to make this sort of studenty spoof seem genuinely funny. He’s like Antonio Banderas in one of those movie farces for kids. The show’s best qualities are its warm and welcoming heart and its unstuffy atmosphere of self-mockery. It may not be an offbeat musical gem — Rocky Horror? Not quite — but it’s a great laugh.

The Trike’s latest is a new play, with an overlong title, about five sisters from a family of East Coast billionaires. We first meet the stuck-up superbrats as they sort through a collection of hideous frocks before a charity event. The characters in shorthand are: ice maiden, nympho, doormat, bankrupt, queen bee. Goodness, they’re hard to like. They carp and whine in a sophisticated, devious manner about clothes, heart-throbs and financial prospects. A crisis emerges, rather slowly. Doormat’s husband has run off with bankrupt’s best friend. But doormat wants hubbie back. Next we move to the charity gala itself where the backbiting and the bitch-craft intensify massively. They’re at it like rats in a barrel. Then, out of nowhere, one sister produces a pistol and blows her brains out all over the canapés. After this, the scene shifts to the funeral.

By now, we’re in tune with the fraught dynamic of this hideous family and when the bullied younger girls start to fight back against their control-freak elder sibling the reversal of fortune comes as a delicious shock. And it’s genuinely moving. I was almost standing up in my seat, shouting, ‘Go on, you milksops, scratch the silly cow’s eyes out!’ By this time, fully acclimatised to the play’s stately rhythm and its subtle range of gestures, I was ready to enjoy the next scene, which is located at the family home. The setting, a tennis court, is realised wittily and with great visual economy. When a line call is disputed, the row escalates into an unholy bust-up over the parents’ history and a long-suppressed suicide. The last scene shows the girls coming to terms with the new emotional dynamic. Why am I writing the review as a list of five tableaux? Because that’s the play. It’s a sequence of family portraits, which at first seem superficial and stilted but which slowly, very slowly, acquire vitality and depth. The two long opening scenes are dispiriting to watch and they make the overall experience a bit of a slog. But it’s worth it in the end. Just.

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