views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Black Pudding
The Bussey Building
8th March 2013


Sam Reynolds and co

Photography © Bella Franks

Now, it's admittedly been a long time since I went down to the woods, but Black Pudding isn't quite how I remember the fairy tales from my childhood. Treasured characters are plucked out of innocent tales, juxtaposed next to some less traditional figures (Made in Chelsea, anyone?) and plied with wine and cakes which may or may not contain bits of ex wives. Still, putting them in cabaret seems a natural choice for the characters and ideals, given the high-camp history of pantomime. There has also been a resurgence of bunging them into a contemporary setting in series such as TV series Once Upon A Time, Grimm and Bill Willingham's superb Fables comic.

Here, the performance takes place within the CLF Art Cafe at the Bussey Building, rather than the theatre space upstairs, making for a more informal and intimate setting for the absurd (if not necessarily absurdist) piece. As it's more cabaret than play, the narrative is slim, relying largely on the skills and whims of the performers.

The Old Man (Billy Hicks) is throwing a special party, with the audience very welcome guests, along with Clichéa (Rebecca Hutchins), her overweight and under-intelligent daughter Goldilocks (Katrina Spreyer), frenemy Dolly (Oliva Pointing), husband and wife Mitch and Madge (Daniel Ash) and dodgy looking prince Bluebeard (Chris Sav). Furry Bassey (Samuel Reynolds) however hasn't made the guest list, with bad blood seemingly between Furry and The Old Man.

Ash plays a bilateral married couple (literally one side of each) with a slight overture of domestic violence. And cakes, lots of them. For what's a party without plenty of cakes? He switches between the two characters deftly with ease, a more vanilla version of East End cabaret's Victor/Victoria character, but enjoyable to watch nonetheless.

There is a lot of singing, perhaps not unexpectedly, but the performers can't really hold a tune. Think drunken karaoke rather than The X Factor live final. What they lack in musical talent though, they make up for in confidence, unashamedly belting out tune after tune. Reynolds' Furry Bassey wisely opts for lip-syncing most of the time, exuding so much sexual energy you may well think you have made a wrong change and ended up in Soho rather than Peckham. And again, Ash does well, especially when supported by the fantastic live musicians, the true unsung heroes of the night.

The four walls are firmly around the audience. At times, the performers focus on a particular spectator or two to the exclusion of all others, making you feel slightly as if you're gatecrashing. And in the unfortunate pillar-laden space, it means you can't get in on the joke. But wait your turn, as no one escapes the group's hospitality (or hostility), making a point of interacting with every individual there - whether that involves being fed Victoria sponge or being humped by a wolf in drag.

As is probably evident from the above, this is the sort of show which relies completely on its audience. If the spectators don't buy into it, it quickly becomes a train wreck. After an uncertain start, the crowd largely seemed to get what The Wind Up Collective were aiming for, warming to the motley crew by the end of the evening.

In the right company, this is a daft night out, but you have to turn up prepared to play along and work for your laughs, the performers don't bring the funny by themselves. Like all good avant-garde, kooky cabaret in the Rocky Horror vein, this is a party, you are the guests - let your hair down.

Black Pudding ran from 8th March to 9th March 2013 at the Bussey Building. It then transferred to the Oxford House at Bethnal Green for a one-off performance on 15th March 2013.

Nearest tube station: Peckham Rye (Overground)

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