Pros: A wacky Christmas production with some brilliant acting.
Cons: Far too many jokes dwell in the realm of unfunny vulgarity.
There are certain things quintessential to Christmas: sparkling lights, tree decorating, The Pogues, mince pies, nostalgic (even controversial) adverts, office parties and of course Santa. It’s virtually impossible to reach the end of December without experiencing all of these, and many people would add pantomimes to this list. Those aged below 18 will be dragged along/chomping at the bit depending on the advance of their impending awkwardness. Those between 30 and 60 will self-indulgingly take their kids and relive their childhood memories. Those over 60 will go along with their grandchildren and relive their childhood memories. You may notice a gap here; 18-30. This is where Sleeping Booty sits – between adolescence and parenthood, fulfilling British society’s yearly need for fairy tales and magic.
Sleeping Booty (Alice Marshall), a fast-talking hoodlum, is in a need of sexual fulfilment, referred to as a ‘prick’, geddit? Along the way, Booty has help from the traditional players in the form of the trisexual ‘Prince Willie Wontie’ (Leon Scott) and Fairy Godmother Fairy Muff (Paula Masterton). They are opposed by The Evil Mangelina, played by Miss Dusty ‘O’, whose confidence in her Soho fame sometimes translates to disinterest. She is aided by Tit-Bit (Rachel Born), the piece’s stand-out performer; quirky and eccentric but shrewd in her delivery. Leon Scott, who turns swearing into an art form, and Alexander Beck, playing a multitude of ridiculous roles convincingly, are also excellent. The play’s lack of regard for plot is fairly severe so there’s not much else to say on this.
This lack of story creates space for randomness and hilarity, which is excellent but wholly limited to the play’s second half. The first half is distracted by exposition, explanation and not helped by unoriginal and humourless writing which panders to the belief that Soho audiences are satisfied by offensive and outrageous ‘jokes’ even if they are devoid of humour. There is a fine line between offensive and risqué. Risque is daring, bold and intelligently irreverent; whilst offensive is just provocative, brash and unentertaining, particularly for adult audiences.
The dance numbers are visually unexciting and achieve nothing in advancing the plot. One gets the impression they were bad to start with and have been downgraded to awful at an attempt of humour, nevertheless their accompanying songs are witty and engaging, particularly when the theatre’s excellent sound system is put to use.
The show’s main fault is its inability to understand the concept of camp. Camp culture originated as a means for gay men to forge an identity for themselves when marginalised by society, rationalising what it meant to be a gay man. This would sometimes manifest itself in jokes that would now be considered not just politically incorrect, but outdated, yet Sleeping Booty still uses them, particularly in its vulgarity, sexuality and portrayal of women (including an unfair Jennifer Lawrence joke). It is possible to address all of these themes, even in shocking ways, but there needs to be a level of wit or tact. Camp can be silly, but it should never be stupid.
When Sleeping Booty remembers the year it’s playing in, how to address modern sexuality and how seriously to take itself; it’s a triumph. It may once have been possible to satisfy an audience through seldom heard overtly (homo)sexual references against secretive backdrops, possibly as a means of creating unity, but society has moved on. There is certainly still a place for camp comedy like this, especially in its festive form, but it owes more to the culture and its admirers to properly engage with it in its modern form, maybe even taking it one step beyond.
Writer & Director: Stuart Saint
Producer: Martin Witts & Lesley Ackland
Booking Until: 17th January 2015
Booking Link: 08448 733433