While browsing some of the more risqué websites you may discover some titillating videos of various people trying to get each other to laugh, moan and groan simply by tickling. This all seems to be fun and games on the surface, but if you delve deep enough into the true story of how these short films are made then you may discover that something rather sinister lurks beneath.
A fun, camp evening.
Tickle tells the story of two young men caught up in the murky world of professional tickling. James McDowall as Chris and Ben Brooker as Callum play it straight as two guys from drabtown with nothing to look forward to, except leaving. Until their world is turned upside-down when they meet Davina Diamond, delightfully played by Amy Sutton.
James is convincing as Chris, the football loving student who finds himself stripped down to his briefs while his best mate tickles him for money. He has good chemistry with Ben and a pleasant singing voice. Ben Brooker has the more exciting storyline as he struggles with his sexuality and his feelings for Chris. His songs were heartfelt and his dilemma felt real. However, the storyline which had dominated much of the first half fizzled into nothing and quickly became irrelevant, which was a shame as it was definitely the more interesting of the various plots.
Amy Sutton outshone the boys however, with a character filled with intrigue and charisma. Always ready to supply a double-entendre, or a knowing wink to the audience, her presence was a very welcome addition to the show. She also had a great voice and moved well across the stage in the few simple dance numbers. Her song It’s Not Gay was the clear highlight of the evening.
The story of Tickle would not be complete without the woman behind the curtain – Tina Tickle herself, sumptuously played by a fully dragged up Richard Watkins. Richard’s performance reminded me of Frank-N-Furter in the closing moments of The Rocky Horror Show. Richard’s singing voice was wonderful and the characterisation was a joy to watch. The writing, however, did not quite live up to the performance from Richard. Tina was, sadly, not quite a strong enough creation to carry the show through the final moments. The presence of the wholesome characters Chris and Callum was sorely missed as we went to deeper and more ludicrous depths with Tina and Davina.
The show’s Book, Music and Lyrics was written by Chris Burgess and he has done a good job. The songs are entertaining, if not memorable, and the non-stop puns about tickling were fun. However, the show lost its focus towards the end and struggled to keep the audience engaged with the changing storyline. The King’s head Theatre is always a difficult space for a musical but Sam Spencer-Lane did a good job with simplistic choreography which really suited the cabaret-esque style of the show. Robert McWhir’s direction was enjoyable. The concept of portraying the piece as a cross between a play and a piece of cabaret entertainment was well-done but a show in-the-round is always a difficult feat. Sadly, due to the blocking, I was struggling to see or hear the actors far too often as they would be on the other side of the stage with their backs towards me. The musical direction by David Eaton was another unfortunate product of the venue’s difficulties as the piano drowned out many of the words, leaving us particularly struggling to keep up when the song was being used to move the plot forwards.
Overall this was an enjoyable night out. The cabaret setting was fun, and the jokes raised many laughs. However, it lost focus towards the end and there were issues with the sound and blocking. The performers did a fantastic job to overcome the shortcomings. Although this is not a theatrical masterpiece it is, indeed, a fun, camp evening.