views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Udderbelly Southbank
22nd June 2016



Photography provided by David Burns PR

It's not often sitting inside a giant purple upside down cow leads to deja vu, but there's something very familiar about Gobsmacked. Well, someone that is. Beatboxer extraordinaire Ball-Zee, also known as Patrick Hirst, happens to be a current member of Vocal Orchestra, a group of beatbox a cappella singers who have performed in the very same inflatable purple cow before. With Vocal Orchestra one of the best acts of its kind, realising one of their own is featuring in this show sets expectations high. Gobsmacked? We better be.

Created by Nic Doodson and Jack Blume, the line up for Gobsmacked consists of six singers (Joanne Evans, Ayanna Coleman-Potempa, Ed Scott, Matthew McCabe, Ricardo Castro and Ben Chambers) and one beatboxer (Hirst). There's no particular narrative arc, with Hirst effectively the puppeteer, playfully getting his co-stars to perform according to his whim. The show has a huge list of songs to get though with director Alexandra Spencer-Jones keeping the pace fast and furious throughout, catching her breath only with an interlude of Hirst playing with invisible instruments.

Some of the set list predates before I was born (there's a bit of Queen as well as Earth, Wind & Fire, so some old classics), but it feels largely aimed at children of the 1990s and millennials, with infectiously upbeat crowd-pleasers like Outkast's Hey Ya and The Black Eyed Peas' Let's Get It Started. Musical director Blume in the main opts for arrangements with a fairly wide appeal. Heartbreak, such as in the mash up of Adele's Rolling in The Deep and Gnarls Barkley's Crazy or the sincere rendition of The Killers' Mr Brightside is short-lived, with the tone never dwelling on anything too sad for too long.

The ensemble of Gobsmacked

Photography provided by David Burns PR

The members of Gobsmacked are all excellent at their specific roles, with Hirst and Evans especially standing out. Although Evans takes the lead several times and hits plenty of difficult high notes, it's her deeper version of It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World that best showcases her stunning vocals. Hirst provides varied and faultless percussion for each song whilst the other performers harmonise beautifully.

For me, Gobsmacked occupies a bit of an undecided middle ground. It's not pure a cappella like Out of the Blue or varied mouth music like Vocal Orchestra. It's a mixed-sex a cappella group with a beatboxer. When you bring a beatboxer into the equation, we want more, we want the epic variety of mouth music legend Shlomo or the playfulness of Aussie one-man orchestra Tom Thum. There's no denying Hirst has skills, but overall, the show keeps things quite safe. Newcomers to this style of musical performance will be blown away however there are similar acts out there that have more of an edge.

Not only is much of this show reminiscent of the musical stylings of Glee, the design is very Disney too. Scott with his round glasses, braces and bow tie embodies geek chic, and even Evans (arguably the sexiest dressed there) is reasonably modest, baring her midriff yet still not inappropriate. Whilst the show will probably appeal to my age group the most due to the musical eras on which it focuses, it really is one for all the family. As far as the rest of the design goes, Phillip Gladwell's set made up of faux speakers is simple and effective, with the speakers illuminated with the beat by lighting designer Charlie Morgan-Jones. It's all good, clean, simple fun.

Gobsmacked doesn't push any boundaries, but it's nonetheless one hour of fabulous entertainment by a very talented group of performers. Take your friends, your children, your parents, your grandparents... Anyone with ears will thank you.

Gobsmacked opened on 16th June and runs until 17th July 2016 at the Udderbelly, Southbank.

Nearest tube station: Waterloo (Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee)

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