Strap yourself in. This is going to be a hell of ride.
I’ve been mostly covering comedy for the Fringe, but I thought seeing as we’re close to the end of this year’s festival, and I’ve finished with my official reviews, that I would make some much-belated comments on a university theatre production which has stained my mind for all eternity due to its crushing tedium. I firmly believe was one of the worst shows I have ever seen. And I’ve seen my little brother’s children’s dram club Starmakers’ interpretation of Mamma Mia.
Now, I wouldn’t normally do this. I’m not a mean-spirited person. I felt bad handing out 2 stars for a show that deserved it (Polly thankfully talked me into dropping it from 3) but I felt I had to write this after reading two extremely generous reviews. One from Broadway Baby (http://www.broadwaybaby.com/listing.php?id=14085), the other from Edinburgh Spotlight (http://www.edinburghspotlight.com/2012/08/fringe-review-the-hand-me-down-people-c-nova/), who gave 3 and 4 stars respectively. Personally it would be lucky to get 1 and a half. But I don’t work in half-measures.
Polly and I went to see the Hand-Me-Down People after being handed an interesting-looking flyer and helped with the further incentive of 2-4-1 tickets. The lesson here, I should add, is don’t take a flyer at face value.
It was a small cramped room in a building that is disused for the majority of the year. We ended up tucked away in a corner on the far side. We soon realised this was a mistake; there was no exit.
The stage was the floor, with chairs all around. There’s a girl at the back sat in an over-sized music box playing a repetitive tune. As we came in the characters were acting something we later discovered was one of the stories the children used to tell when they played with the figures. These old toys, or figurines, as they insist on calling themselves, don’t really ring any bells. There was a piper (?), a generic monster (a rip-off of Shrek), a witch (okay), princess (fair enough), grandmother (wah?) and a doll (you presume some sort of barbie-figure but really this actor made the least effort in terms of costume. Hot pants and pony tail? Oh yeah! A doll!) The witch, princess, and grandmother are supposed to be the same character playing all three, but it never really comes across, and there doesn’t ever seem to be a point to it. Let alone the rest of the play.
So the premise: OK. These toys are living a sad, desperate life up on this shelf having been discarded by the children long ago. They miss the stories in which they used to feature and that long drop off the shelf is looking all the more appealing as the days go by.
Yeah, by this point, I’m thinking…I’ve heard this somewhere before. Ever heard of Toy Story, guys?
They’re not saying this is a new ‘darker’ spin on Toy Story. At least I hope not, because it is the most tedious hour of theatre I have ever had the misfortune to sit through. No, scrap that. Where I said theatre, just include any medium you wish. I’ve had more fun listening to droning sermons in church.
The room is sweltering hot, which doesn’t help. What also doesn’t help is the god-awful acting. The worst thing is this monster character who is painted green, including his nails – and that’s important, because the green is highlighted under the lighting. And the monster had this really irritating habit of splaying his hands out and resting them on his thighs as if he didn’t know what to do with his hands. So instead of listening to the REALLY DULL AND BORING dialogue, all I’m concentrating on is this guys green fingernails. I mean, come on! Did you just not know where to put your hands so decided on that? Was that a directional move? Is it stylistic? I just don’t know enough about theatrical convention to get my head round why you shouldn’t do that. But just don’t do that!
Back to the dialogue: it is so horribly dull. The whole show is just talking. And they never say anything remotely interesting. They try to be funny. but bless their cotton socks, they seem to have missed the memo that “Your face,” stopped being funny about four years ago. “Look at her face… and her clothes,” they keep saying in reference to the doll. Give it a rest, please, we are all thinking.
They also persist with a joke about the music box. “Can’t you play anything else?” they drone on and on and on. It gets a snicker, if that. The whole show is just not very convincing. not at all ‘poignant’ and ‘multi-layered’ as Edinburgh Spotlight would have you believe.
All they have on the shelf is a broken pencil, a dead mouse and dust. Details they keep pushing on us. We get it, alright, there’s not much up there. There’s no explanation where they all go when there’s only one or two characters on stage. How big is this shelf supposed to be? And they go on and on about these stories, how great they were, how much they miss them. The irony, I think, is supposed to be that the really deep and meaningful story is the one about the fate of the toys. It doesn’t come off.
Musings on the inevitability of mortality? Do me a favour. It’s such a weak script, heads were literally lolling. I took a look around the audience at one point and people were struggling to keep their eyes open, staring up at the lightsm twiddling their thumbs – ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING to take away the excruciating pain of watching this terrible production. Yes, it was hot. But it was hot in the theatre where I watched Carl Donnelly. The temperature can only account for about 5% of the audience attention span waning.
I’ve probably said enough. I don’t want to destroy the ambitions of young drama students. I just want the world to know that just because something is advertised as a 4 star show, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth watching. God help you if you pay full price for something like that. It must haunt you for the rest of your life.
My suggestion is: guys, go back to Nottingham, take a good hard look at your script, tear it up, and write something new that isn’t a crap, insincere rip off of Toy Story, and come back to the Fringe next year with something you can proudly call “The Best We Could Do Given The Allotted Time and Limited Talent”
And to the reviewers from Broadway Baby and Edinburgh Spotlight: Are you seriously suggesting you kind of enjoyed the show? or was this more a case of meeting star targets or being sympathetic towards students? People have to learn that their stuff isn’t good enough so they can improve.
Don’t encourage mediocrity.
Thank you for your time.