In 1987, celebrated BBC weather forecaster Michael Fish stood up on national television and shrugged off reports of an oncoming hurricane. That evening, a brutal storm hit the south coast of the country, eventually killing 18 people. The storm was later described by the Home Secretary as being the United Kingdom’s ‘worst, most widespread night of disaster’ since the Blitz. Fish claims he was misquoted, yet the clip has understandably remained a vital part of television history and ‘a Michael Fish moment’ quickly became shorthand for a confident prediction that turns out to be hideously wrong.
Dark forces are at work here – and not just meteorologically
Hurricane Michael posits an alternate narrative in which our hero, one Michael Phish, was in fact manipulated into misleading the viewing public as punishment for his radical broadcasts. A renegade from the Met Office, Phish had been transplanted into the BBC to transform the weather forecasts and boost ratings. However, once his predictions began to prove a little too incisive, the Director General stepped in with an earpiece and a spot of light brainwashing…
It’s a rather timely interpretation of the story, resonating in our current climate of Fake News and conspiracy theorists, but one which also recalls the vogue for 1970s paranoid thrillers. Dark forces are at work here – and not just meteorologically.
Setting the production in the 1980s allows for some slightly tasteless nods to the sexist and homophobic attitudes of the era. At times I was unsure whether we were supposed to be laughing at the clueless bigotry or with it. Yet overall, the nostalgic flavor of the show works in its favour, with the audience regularly roaring in appreciative recognition.
Despite its gentle satirisation of the BBC, Auntie’s thumbprints are all over this production. The fast-paced script – filled with innuendo, malapropism and mixed metaphors – had already reminded me of a certain kind of Radio 4 comedy (the ones that always seems to be burbling away in the background when you’re washing the dishes) even before the incorporation of a Just A Minute gag. It’s a mode of humour that isn’t quite my flavour, but one that went down extremely well in the (packed) house I saw it with.
The piece at times feels as baggy as Phish’s suit jacket, especially with an interlude of audience interaction that lasted far longer than it should have, but overall we are in safe hands with actor Russell Layton. His Phish is rather a tornado, whisking up the audience in a whirlwind of jokes, improvisation, and comic asides. He is particularly adept at mime, a talent on which the script relies on sparingly, but well.
This piece is quintessentially Fringe, homegrown British to its core (with some nice local nods), and worth seeing for the force of Phish’s personality alone.