saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
12th January 2015
Photography provided by Morganite Theatre
Stop me if you've heard this one. A man walks into a pet shop carrying a deceased Norwegian Blue parrot. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the shopkeeper swears that the bird is indeed alive, and probably just "pinin' for the fjords". It's all in the delivery, of course. The sketch, other than a piece of silliness and small-A absurdism, really doesn't have a point other than to see the man, Mr Praline, lose his temper in a way only John Cleese can. No subtext, no larger metaphor, simply rather funny. And that, in a nutshell, is Velvet Remains.
Grand, you may think, a diverting 30-minute-and-change two-hander that makes me laugh for a bit and seems to be titled after a song by Raunchy for no real reason. And you'd be right. But the problems arise when there are loftier ideas - or at least ghosts of loftier ideas which fail to materialise. It seems everything these days wants to be Beckett and this is no different, with the usual calls of "What day is it?", indicating it really could be any, isolationism and characters who can't escape each other.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. On the surface, this is a comedy about a warring couple, James Ferguson's Herbert (irritatingly pronounced as "Herwbit") and Greta (Natalia Massucco) who were once in an orchestra together, fell in love and now can't seem to stand each other. Keeping them together is the power struggle revolving around their cat, who, as you may have picked up on by now, has passed on. No more. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet 'is maker. Of course they can't admit that to each other, so they bicker, ignore the phone, passive-aggressively play instruments and cater to the beast's every whim. It's a gross but logical extension of all those people who treat their animals like their babies.
The concept's a good one, the writing and performances lively and suitably vicious. But the overriding issue is that subtext crashes through the script on a Harley Davidson, while fireworks go off and Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar on Me plays, before it runs over said cat, lighting a cigarette and flipping the Vs to the audience. It loses the "sub" part when Greta, comically and grotesquely but in no way seductively suggests that "the cat needs to be stroked, Herwbit!" before the pair appear to climax. Can you guess what the cat represents yet?
This wouldn't be so much of a difficulty had anything else been explored or hinted at - why have they gone potty? Why are they cut off from the world, afraid to answer the phone? Or are they simply Endgame's Nagg and Nell? Their codependency, while nicely represented in the opening as they both make a ruckus and beautiful music together, isn't entirely convincing.
But if you can look past this and take it at utter face value (which isn't a difficult job) there's plenty to keep you entertained. The interplay between Morganite theatre members Ferguson and Massucco is a joy to behold - the glances, childish one-upmanship and sniping never fail to raise a smile. He's effete and not entirely a stranger to bouts of hysteria akin to Rik Mayall's Young Ones character Rik. She's half Bonnie Langford's Violet Elizabeth Bott and half a failed vamp. Their musical interludes, on cello and glockenspiel respectively, are wonderfully timed and a nice break from the non-stop venom. And many, many lines ("You're red faced!" "It's the gout!") that less accomplished shows would need a run-up to are tossed away causally, without a second thought, as there's another great zinger seconds away.
It may be about as delicate and nuanced as a house brick to the mush - and picking out a few of those mysterious details and layering the piece more would undoubtedly help both the satisfaction gleaned from it and bump up the running time. But nonetheless, Velvet Remains is more dead parrot than dead duck, and (pardon the mixed metaphor and implausibility) with some tweaking, it could soar. Or at least stay nailed to its perch.
Velvet Remains opened on 12th January and runs until 14th January 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of BlackBoxFestival.
Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)