Topping & Butch: Sex, Drugs & Harriet Harman

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Cheekily camp Topping and Butch have such innate warmth and charm that they could be Morecambe and Wise on Poppers… even if they’ve yet to find their Eddie Braben to mould their appealing personalities into comedy gold.

In Sex, Drugs & Harriet Harman, the duo even ape Eric and Ernie’s use of an aloof guest star, in the exquisitely vampish form of Maria Tecce, a mesmerising mezzo-soprano who gamely plays sultry straightwoman to their frisky shenanigans. Four Poofs And A Piano also do a guest turn, but with no such attempt at integrating their outré ditties into the greater show.

These days Topping and Butch leave their leather bondage gear back in the dungeon, and perform instead in stylish smoking jackets, reflecting their debt to Noel Coward, whose pithy, barbed intimate revue songs they clearly hope to emulate.

Their constantly updated signature tune, Never Mind, is probably the best example of this; limerick-like couplets applied to the news of the day with a cheerily old-fashioned piano accompaniment. The emphasis is on the playfully silly, rather than any sharp satirical points, but they score full marks for topicality.

That lightness of touch lets them get away with utter filth, such as a song about picking up rough trade in a taxi, yet make it seem little more than cheekiness. Even any passing maiden aunts are more likely to shriek in delight than disgust. Another highlight is their catty assault on Lily Allen – employing the same talking-singing style, naturally – which is fun even for fans of the LDNer’s work.

But as a whole this show – the second of four, weekly residencies at the Leicester Square Theatre – is rather slipshod. The duo stumble over their words several times in the first half, and much of their energies seems to be directed at remembering their material, rather than best performing lines they know backwards. The whole Harriet Harman idea is a red herring, too; with an occasional mention of her allegedly being on the phone while driving thrown in to justify the title, even though they have no apparent interest in Harman as any sort of theme.

They’ve got the charisma not to let any of the flaws drag them down, of course, performing with a merry impudence and a glint in their eyes that’s largely irresistible. But there’s still the feeling that they’re falling short of the heights their talents could take them for want of more preparation and firmer direction.

Review date: 3 Dec 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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