Nick Helm's I Think, You Stink! |
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Nick Helm's I Think, You Stink!

It’s alive! Nick Helm’s musical love letter to the B-movie horror flick has risen from the dead, 11 years after it was last performed at the Fringe, where it made the grand total of £50. I Think You Stink was the last play Helm wrote before becoming known as a comedian, a career in which he’s built up enough currency for this show to now draw the attention it never received before.

It’s got a budget, too, with professional on-screen graphics, a cast of five, costumes and props – almost all of which are deployed in the opening scene showcasing the benefits of the immersive Hypno-Vision in which the ‘film’ is presented. It’s a fabulously busy, insane vision, with dozens of surreal vignettes being played out involving everything from giant eyeballs to ghosts to bouncing bananas. All entirely gratuitous, like the visual effects in old 3D movies.

And so the scene is set, for a few shorts and the main feature. The first, Two Little Girls, is played relatively straight, with Helm intoning his sinister story, affectionately parodying the technique of using sing-song nursery rhymes for creepy effect as scenes are acted out in the gloom of a barely-lit stage. Tonight’s performance was hit by technical gremlins, requiring a restart which Helm took in his stride, but even then the sound mix was imperfect.

But thereafter the mood was more upbeat, celebrating the camp of the genre in all its cornball glory. It would be easy to see I Think You Stink as this year’s Elvis Dead – even without the creator of that cult Fringe hit, Rob Kemp, being cast in this, too. He took centre stage as a supermarket manager who goes postal, making good use of his physicality and his impressive baritone. 

But Sooz Kempner gets the best tune, playing a vengeful cheerleader as she belts out the refrain I’m Gonna Haunt You with verve and ominous glee. This is a bona fide musical hit, and Kempner brought it to life with all the peppy energy it needed. 

Some spot-on parodies of old Pearl & Dean ads lead us into the feature presentation, Boyfriend From Hell. Here Kemp’s character takes his breakup from Jenny Bede’s badly and winds up in Hades with Old Nick Helm himself… in the sort of tight and grubby catsuit you wouldn’t want to image him in. Curse you Hypno-Vision for making it so real!

Things have become a little looser by this stage, but the cast are having such fun that it spreads through the room. And the tap-dancing routine, led by Kempner and Katie Pritchard, is one of the funniest visual gags of the Fringe.

It’s this spirit that buoys the whole performance. The show is only rarely as forcefully funny as Helm’s stand-up, but the whole package that charms and entertains in equal measure. There are great songs, infectious spirited performances, and an overwhelming tone of irreverent tribute to the cheesy, hammy movies that Helm clearly holds in great affection. All of which will steal your soul.

Review date: 20 Aug 2019
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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