My Big Fat Weirdos Christmas Wedding | Gig review by Steve Bennett at Leicester Square Theatre, London

My Big Fat Weirdos Christmas Wedding

Gig review by Steve Bennett at Leicester Square Theatre, London

Have the Weirdos gone legit? Last year the alternative comedy collective staged their panto in promoter Bob Slayer’s half-derelict, health-and-safety-defying underground bunker that perfectly reflected their shabby ethos. This time they are in the proper Leicester Square Theatre.

But should you expect this signals a new professionalism for the shambolic troupe, you’ve got another think coming. For My Big Fat Weirdos Christmas Wedding is probably their loosest annual show yet, the forces of chaos often overwhelming the weak cohesion.

It’s still Knockabout fun, if you’re prepared to buy into their gleeful lack of professionalism, and at moments it’s sublimely silly. But those moments do become further apart as indulgence and extravagance set in.

There are 35 Weirdo cast members listed in the programme  – and it often seems like they are all on stage at the same time. That’s a lot off oddball creative input. Probably too much creativity, unlikely as that might sound as a criticism, because it makes  for an overwhelming amount  of madness. It’s the comedy equivalent of a child’s drawing of a castle when they’ve added everything they can think of: laser turrets, unicorns, glitterballs, alien rocket launchpads…

So when the three ghosts of Birmingham past, present and future are dancing to Wigfield’s Saturday Night alongside a cardboard cactus and the villain of the piece, belly bared, brandishing an unexplained severed head on a stick and with a deflated pigs’ head mask on their belt, you just shrug and accept it. ‘Why?’ is not a question that will ever get a satisfactory answer in a Weirdos show. This scene, like the rest, happens for a few seconds, then another equally insane tableau will follow.

But when absolutely everything is so nonsensical, it’s not long until madness becomes the norm and weirdness no longer stands out. And the lack of concern about making sense is an issue when you’re asking an audience to invest two hours (less interval) in the shenanigans.

Still, there’s a simple delineation of Heroes and Villains in writer Adam Larter’s plot just so you know who to hiss and who to cheer. Larter plays the lead character, also called Adam, who wants marry the winsome, if dippy, Brummie Fiona (Lucy Pearman, who has rubber gloves for ankles… again, never ask why). But her evil father Gary (Beth Vyse, exposing her pregnant belly throughout) wants to thwart the union and convinces the most middle man in the Midlands to cut the city off from the rest of the UK, and ban locals from marrying outsiders.

Vyse steals scenes with her appropriately over-the-top pantomime villainy; while the other big attention-grabber is Michael Brumstrom, as the jauntily dancing Dorito Fish, standing for election as Mayor Of Christmas against the loudmouth populist Hula Hoop Trout – adding a none-too-subtle Trump parody to the Brexit one. Nice, too, is Joz Norris’s irritating wedding planner… though who knows what to make of Marnie Godden’s Blenda, a woman with a blender on her head who takes Fiona’s anxieties and blends them into an apple. That old story.

Not all performances are at the same volume, figuratively or literally, but it does become something of a contest for each Weirdo to be bolder and brasher than the next.

Meanwhile, cues are missed, lines forgotten, scenes rushed through as the cast realise just how horrifically they are overrunning… this is all par for the course, and a welcome part of the anarchy. But when everything’s falling apart, and many random sub-stories fight for attention, again it means there’s little normality for the oddness to push against and the show start to ring hollow.

Amid all this there are moments that will make you howl with laughter, a well-judged line here, the occasional semi-traditional comedy sketch there, or a bit of preposterous business that hits your funny bone. Though don’t be surprised if you’re the only one laughing; this is the sort of show that has different moments that will perfectly appeal to just a few people’s particular sense of humour, and you just have to wait for your one to come around.

Weirdo’s is an offbeat Christmas tradition, and long may it remain so. But as its ambitions become grander, it needs a stronger hand from director Matthew Highton and his assistant Gareth Morinan (and, I daresay a bit more rehearsal time) - not to obliterate the ever-engaging rough edges but to channel the insanity, and to realise that sometimes - just sometimes - less might be more.

• My Big Fat Weirdos Christmas Wedding is at Leicester Square Theatre tonight and tomorrow at 9.30pm. All proceeds go to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Review date: 8 Dec 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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