Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Richard O'Brien's "Mephistopheles Smith" - Augustines, 11 August 2007

Back in 1995 I went to a Fringe show called Disgracefully Yours, written by and starring Richard O'Brien (creator of The Rocky Horror Show, presenter of The Crystal Maze, etc etc). Its basic premise was that these days consumer choice is all-important, so it had been decided that instead of people being allocated to heaven or hell in the afterlife they should be given the chance to choose. The show was hell's advertising pitch in the afterlife facilities market; an attempt to capitalise on heaven's image problem and increase market share. O'Brien played Mephistopheles Smith. The show subsequently transferred to London, ran for a while, then vanished.

Until now, when as Richard O'Brien's "Mephistopheles Smith" it has returned to Edinburgh with Janus Theatre Company. There have been some changes to the musical numbers, and many to the dialogue (actually mostly monologue), but it's still recognisably the same show. Now the lead role is played by Paul Roberts (ex-Stranglers) and the Frockettes have become the Devilettes (Francesca Casey and Roxanne Palmer, both highly eloquent sales reps for the sins of the flesh). The show started out with a couple of technical glitches (a light wasn't working, and Roxanne's radio mike dropped out occasionally) but it all rapidly came together. The strength of the material has a lot to do with it, of course: the opening number (Must Be Mephistopheles Smith) is one of ROB's good ones ("Who owns the soul of the rock'n' roll riff? Why it's very very possibly Mephistopheles Smith.") But - it may seem sacrilegious to say this - I think Paul Roberts was a better Smith than ROB himself. Oh, ROB was very funny, and very sardonic, and very creepy as only ROB can be. But as far as actually selling the whole hell experience goes, Roberts was much more convincing. I mean, Richard O'Brien is always going to be just a little bit edgy, creepy, weird..... and maybe if you're trying to pick out your niche for eternity that isn't what you want. But Paul Roberts? All things to all men (and women), and could sell snow to eskimos, even without his little helpers. (I have to say this: the Devilettes looked marvellous, tight Lycra displaying asses to die for - but the bulging radio mike units in the back of their waistbands definitely distracted attention from their USPs....) And he can sing, of course, at least as well as ROB if not better.

The finale is Anyhow, Anyhow, which is a retread from Shock Treatment (though as that musical was shamefully neglected it does no harm to air one of its strongest numbers). I can't remember whether ROB used it in the original show, but I suspect not; however, it fits perfectly, and the cast perform it with great verve.

I really do recommend anyone who likes musicals at all to go and see this one. It isn't Rocky Horror; it isn't even Shock Treatment; but it is very funny and has some great songs. There is a CD on sale for £5, which has six songs from the show on it (though with a different cast from earlier in the tour). Worth it IMO. You can get more songs (performed by ROB himself) on Absolute O'Brien if you like. The show is at the Fringe until 26 August; then goes to Reading (31/8 - 1/9) and Guildford (3/10-6/10). See it: it could be another 12 years before you get the chance again.


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