The acts chosen from the London competition earlier this year are as varied as they are talented, representing the old and well-loved to the new and exciting. Frequently their musical ability seems to outweigh the humour of their writing, but all of them will find enthusiastic fans at the Fringe.
While the idea of rapping medieval literature may seem inherently comic, what the remix actually does is to remind one not only of how good the original stories were, but of how many raps are actually modern urban fables, with moral messages, and how much continuity exists between these different forms of storytelling.
The evening was hosted by Rob Deering, a twinkly chap in tight-fitting rocker jeans and t-shirt, a fine singer with a nice line in spoof lyrics. His use of a looping pedal was impressive if you hadn’t seen similar acts, but pretty loose compared to the masters, like Shlomo.
First up were Baba Brinkman and Mr Simmonds (The Canterbury Tales Remixed) with a gangsta rap version of Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale. The backing music was fantastic, with dark sounds and swelling strings, reminding one of Eminem or the Gorillaz, supported with dizzy projections of crude, grotesque ink drawings of the three protagonists in the act of satisfying their lusts. The rap itself was astonishing, a brilliant updating of the story, with lyrics so slick you’d think Slim Shady was Chaucer’s other pen-name. It’s not exactly a funny piece, sticking closely as it does to the original which provides little scope for humour. It may also be a little bit too long, dwelling at length on the setup and rather rushing through the action when it starts to drag. While the idea of rapping medieval literature may seem inherently comic, what the remix actually does is to remind one not only of how good the original stories were, but of how many raps are actually modern urban fables, with moral messages, and how much continuity exists between these different forms of storytelling. On this evidence, The Canterbury Tales Remixed is almost certainly a great show, but not necessarily all that funny.
Chelsea Manders (Don’t Tell My Dad), deals in more obviously comic material. A curvaceous blond Canadian in a red dress, she pitches for the image of the bold, brassy songstress. She has a wonderful singing voice, and her songs are polished, but somewhat lacking in their material. Her ‘slutty cousin bossa nova’ is a nice idea but doesn’t show off much lyrical invention. Nor does her song about losing her virginity on a trip to France - a blend of slightly tired innuendo and simple obscenity. She is funny and presents herself well but her writing fails to stand out.
Especially when compared with the next act on the billl: Laurence Owen (Lullabies of Pervland) treated us to a stunning send-up of all the Disney films before Frozen, outlining in three brilliantly written and remarkably scored songs the only three options for women in the world of Fairytale. With grand orchestration and a tough-talking New Jersey songbird, his songs could be Disney originals, and he could definitely have had a singing role in any of the films. His observations may not be the very freshest, but his musical inventiveness certainly is.
Next up were The Nualas (Hello Again, We’re the Nualas), an Irish singing trio in sparkly burgundy dresses and three shades of hair, who remind one ever so faintly of another group performing mere feet away in Bristo square, whose song of cut-price aviation is so fondly remembered. Still, they are their own act, and there is something inevitably entertaining about three women in cheap dresses and horn-rimmed specs, who feel like they might have come straight from a birthday party in a parish hall in county Sligo. Their chosen song, about buying a baby on eBay, was very entertaining, but again more musically proficient than hilarious. Their stage-presence is excellent, however, and I have no doubt that they could easily keep an audience engaged for a full hour.
Youtube stars Axis of Awesome (Viva la Vida Loca Las Vegas) are next up in the musical comedy showcase. Their generic boy-band song, with which they opened, never gets old, although it is now a very venerable piece; I first saw it in 2011, and it was not new then. Still, for a talent showcase there is no shame in sticking with the tried and tested material. Their KFC song, which they also wheeled out, cannot be any younger. There is almost certainly plenty of new material in their current Fringe show, and if you haven’t seen them live before then it’s always worthwhile. For old fans, however, it is not clear from this showcase that they are planning any surprises.
One thing you can say about Axis of Awesome is that they furnish a good spectacle, and they know how to end a show. In what seemed a somewhat bizarre decision, Rubberbandits (Continental Fistfight) were chosen to round off the Musical Comedy Awards Showcase. The duo constitutes two terrifying Irish goblin-type creatures with shopping bags on their heads, eating pringles and drinking cider from a squashed plastic bottle while they prance merrily in front of a projector-screen singing utterly weird songs. Smiling Ivan is a rather sweet song about befriending a six-year-old boy, with an enjoyable music-video, in which the repetitiveness of the lyrics is made up for by a good beat and a fun chorus. Their next song, however, Spastic Hawk, is simply repetitive, with really very uninventive lyrics. It sounds like a badly improvised song which has been written down and left unedited, entirely lacking in tune or rhythm and seems genuinely tasteless. They describe it as “a piece of performance art about a retarded bird”, and manage to make the word ‘spastic’ sound like the broad-brush insult it used to be. I’m sure this is deliberate, and knowing, but there is no avoiding the discomfort it produces, and the fact that a song is deliberately bad cannot wholly save it from being just a bad song. There is nothing likeable or appealing about their on-stage personas which might soften the effect of these songs, either, and they leave the show on quite a disappointing note. From the sound of it they have some dedicated and enthusiastic fans, but it’s not the kind of thing I would ever pay money for.