Bagbeard begins with two workers in hazard suits, arguing hilariously about burgers. They mumble comically, but helpfully there are subtitles projected onto the black screen behind them so the audience can follow their ridiculous conversation. This opening scene sets up the rest of the play as addictively absurd. It only gets better from here.
Michael Clarke plays a failing scientist called Chris Mystery (NOT Christmas Tree) who has one last chance to be accepted into the Institute of Brilliant Scientists, or IBS, as it is amusingly referred to. As luck would have it, Chris stumbles across a monosyllabic alien (James Gault, wearing only pants and a plastic bag) in the desolate woods. His plans are skewered though, as handsome FBI agent, Victor Valentine (Ed Jones), competes for the alien’s attention.
We meet plenty of other characters along the way. Gault, Clarke and Jones manically change behind the central black screen, adding to the fringe feel of the show. Within the pagan-esque community there is a literal town cryer, a woke vicar, a corrupt mayor and an owl, just to name a few. There is singing, an unexpected romance and a nonsensical shadow show involving lion excrement. But the pièce de résistance is the hysterical flashback scenes and glimpses into the future, complete with incredible miming, which will have you crying with laughter.
Random details littered throughout the show, and ludicrous anecdotes that seem irrelevant, are reflected upon and explained through clever punchlines.
The disguises are deliciously home-made and simple. The performers mainly rely on slapstick and accents to convince the audience that they have swapped characters. Although having said that, the owl costume will haunt me for several weeks to come.
The stage is small and basic, but this doesn’t matter; it is used well. Similarly, the lighting is effective. From a pitch-black alien-hunting scene with only flashlights illuminating the actor’s faces, to the red flashing lights mimicking flames, Crybabies have thought of everything. The only downside was that the sound was a bit off –slightly too loud and fuzzy – but undoubtedly this will be fixed for the upcoming performances.
Having missed Bagbeard at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I was thrilled to catch it at the Soho Theatre. Originally supposed to finish this Saturday, due to demand Bagbeard will have a second run in March and justifiably so; there was barely a moment when the audience weren’t laughing. Even writing this review, I find myself snorting at the memory of it and I’m sure it’ll take me a long time to stop chuckling to myself whenever I see a bag for life (the best pun of the show).
Written by: James Gault, Michael Clarke and Ed Jones
Crybabies: Bagbeard plays at The Soho Theatre between 16 – 21 Jan and then 7 – 11 March. Further information and bookings can be found here.