Mark Watson (And Friends) Take Control Of The World In 24 Hours

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

If you’re planning on becoming a hostage, try to make sure you have Mark Watson with you. Not only does he make confinement in an uncomfortable, airless, subterranean box such immense fun, but he also engenders such a feeling of community that within a couple of hours, he’d surly have the terrorists nipping out to get Krispy Kreme doughnuts all round.

It’s what makes these long shows so hard to describe. Simply listing the strange things that went on, from Adam Hills in his undies and fishnets to a near-naked man running around the venue with only a giant koala head protecting his identity, can make it sound like anarchic fun – but it does nothing to explain the emotional attachment everyone develops to the ebbs and flows of the day’s dramas. Call it a manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome, but the audience becomes truly involved in everything.

How else to explain the euphoria when Lord Mayor John So pops in for a five-minute stint of good-natured public-relations banter, cheerleading for the city it’s his job to represent? Never can a civil servant have had such a reception for simply doing his job, and to fully understand it you need to have contributed to the hours of inventive chivvying to make an appearance. It was thought to be in vain, which only made his elusive, iconic status grow – so no wonder his entrance seemed like the Second Coming. And, ever the politician, he wisely ignored the crude effigy of himself that decorated the stage, created as just another diverting side project in a day full of them.

So’s drop-in was, therefore, just one incident – albeit a spectacular one - in a packed 24 hours. The joy is that everyone wants to take part, so not only does the show feature a comic A-list – with memorable contributions from Hills, David O’Doherty, Casey Bennetto, Glenn Wool, Mickey D, Phil Nichol, Josie Long, Maeve Higgins, Geraldine Quinn, Eddie Perfect and more – but the audience throw themselves fully into proceedings. And because it’s an arty, festival crowd, almost anything is possible. Want a fanfare? Why, here’s a bloke with a trumpet… Human pyramid? He’s a woman with circus skills. Bit of a lull? Well, this lady could do a burlesque dance… Everyone wants to help the likeable, and often fragile, Watson, get through the hours. And kudos must go to Watson’s trusted lieutenant, Tim Key, for keeping on top of both the admin, and stirring up some energy when needed.

This is the antidote to Lord Of The Flies. Left isolated from the world, it proves that with the right leader you could get a creative, cooperative utopia – not a feral dictatorship. The achievements of a Mark Watson long show offer nothing less than hope for humanity.

This instalment also featured a sizeable technical team, coordinating over a jerky internet connection with a simultaneous gig in London. A gig, incidentally, that managed to attract none other than Terry Jones to make a contribution. But even if he may have been Python, he’s no John So.

The pan-global idea was a mixed blessing, the London contingent sometimes coming as an intrusion into the self-contained world in Melbourne, but also providing a much-needed boost in the early morning with a slew of competitive games, from a stare-off to rock-scissors paper, which frequently degenerated into niggling accusations of cheating.

To list every in-joke and group achievement would be meaningless for anyone not lucky enough to have lived though these 24 hours (though the genuinely impressive quilt of the world deserves special mention). Equally there are plenty of moments when not much is happening; with the audience left just watching a teenager play Wii or messing about on the internet. But these provide the glue that binds the audience into a collaborative group as much as the big stunts. Like any friendship, it’s defined by the day-to-day – or hour-by-hour – coexistence.

Watson has said he planning to give these long shows a rest, for fear they lose their sense of occasion. But it’s hard to see that happening – as there is simply nothing to compare to the sheer exhilarating, if draining, experience of these memorable epics. Doing them at every Edinburgh and Melbourne is obviously unfeasible, especially given the toll they must take on his health. But it would be a shame to thing an endurance show would never happen as a special event in the future, even if Watson shares the burden of fronting it.

Now, to get that anthem to a 13-year-old boy out of my head. I would explain but – like so much else – you really had to be there…

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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