review star review star review star review blank star review blank star

Phil Nichol: Welcome To Crazytown

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Phil Nichol’s evocative recreation of a 1974 Baltimore jazz cellar is so authentic that you’d swear the low-ceilinged Stand was blanketed in fug of cigarette smoke, ban or no ban.

The conceit is that we are in Bertha’s club, witnessing the only performance of beat poet Bobby Spade’s seminal piece Welcome To Crazytown, a dark journey through Denial Park, Anger Freeway and BigLove Prison, written after the death of his wife Tamara. A three-piece band, The Keroasacians, provides suitably seedy mood music to match his gloomy stream of consciousness.

It’s a genre-defying hour all right: part music, part comedy, part spoken word, part theatre. But that also means that the other elements obscure the gags, so punhclines sneak past while you’re basking in the ambience. The deliberately poor puns get bigger laughs than nifty writing within the poetry because they break that atmosphere, so release the tension.

The ghost of Edgar Allan Poe is evoked, not just a character in his dark tale, but in a style of writing that also conjures with images from film noir, gonzo writing and outright surrealism, such as the image of the human calendar. Chuck into the already rich mix a Billie Holliday impression, audience interaction, impressively over-the-top set pieces such as Shitty Christmas and a bloody denouement (unfortunately given away in the introduction) and you have a lot going on.

Powering through all this, Nichol’s performance is as intense as we’ve come to expect, by turn brooding and downbeat before exploding in a spitting, pounding blast of psychotic anger. Then, in an instant, he’ll be back to normal, bantering with the band, or emoting his verses.

Everything about this production booms class, and yet, and yet… laughter is hard to come by, the jokes buried under all the trappings of the show. That everything else is so right but the comedy costs it a star; but Welcome To Crazytown is still an all-enveloping slice of impressive, stylish entertainment.

Review date: 28 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

What do you think?

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.