zazU, a town (or possibly country) with fairly odd inhabitants, is gearing up to hold its fête. It’s all a bit Jam and Jerusalem, until the kitten clubbing begins. The inhabitants, from the Spittlecheeks family, who are convinced their daughter is a boy, to Detective Bastard and his long suffering fellow police officers, are all peculiar, but even stranger is the plot, as a group of subversives attempt to disrupt the festival with song. zazU, both the company and the creation, had a similar show up last year, but this follow up is more of a development than a sequel, and you don’t need to have seen the first to enjoy
Quick and clever, A Fête Worse Than Death is well worth seeing live.
The team of four, Tom Machell, Harrie Hayes, Maddie Rice and Nick Read, have chosen a simple post-war aesthetic as the foundations of their strange world. There’s just enough familiarity in bobble hats, bunting and folk singing to stir a sense of nostalgia, before little Timmy Spittlecheeks and his sociopathic stare reminds us that we’re not wandering down memory lane. Occasionally there’s a standout costume, like Anoushka the tourist’s garish glasses, to break yet another convention.
For zazU is an unspeakably strange place, and the performers make sure you know it. The surrealism is built well and admirably sustained, especially as what seems at first to be a sketch show develops into a cohesive whole. There’s never something that feels out of place, but it’s all easy to grasp, from the little quirks, such as the laws about feet and the Voice of Reason that enforces them, to large plot points. The finale breaks all the established rules of flashbacks for a great gag, but also reminds the audience not to trust what they see in a world where police business mostly involves clamping down on ‘bobbleheads’.
Hayes’ characters are consistently the weirdest, while Rice, channelling Ollie Coleman’s comic expressions, gets to grips with the more straight woman parts. Machell is sublime as Timmy, but sometimes rushes through Magorial, a quack psychic. Read’s Detective Bastard is magnificent, if a little more parodic than surreal. The plot threads could, perhaps, come together a little more neatly, but they do provide a great framework for meeting a great many of zazU’s citizens. Quick and clever, A Fête Worse Than Death is well worth seeing live.