Sunday, December 06, 2009

Stephen and the Sexy Partridge, Trafalgar Studios

When you’ve got a surreal, knockabout live comedy show to direct, Cal McCrystal is certainly your man. Paul King may have received plaudits for his direction of the Mighty Boosh television series, but it was McCrystal who first got those unique comic minds Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt together on stage, so who better to bring a human-sized partridge superhero from outer-space to the West End?

This is the ‘Sexy Partridge’ of the title, who is commissioned by the intergalactic and much revered great Pear to fly around the universe saving poor souls who are in need of some festive help. That’s where the ‘Stephen’ of the title comes in; when we meet Stephen at the start of the show, his girlfriend Chanel is on the verge of splitting up with him because he is stupid, narrow-minded, sex-pesty, hates dancing - and precisely seven other problems.

And so, on Christmas Eve, just as Stephen is feeling particularly un-Christmassy in the Westfield shopping centre while looking for a present that will rescue his relationship, the Partridge appears before him, in the hope of helping him solve these eleven problems (plus one Partridge makes twelve days of Christmas of course). On his increasingly odd journey to self-discovery, Stephen meets four calling birds with whom he manages not to be sex-pesty, six geeks a-playing a version of The Weakest Link in which he proves himself to be not so stupid after-all, and seven male swans a-swimming (Partridge takes him to see the Matthew Bourne Swan Lake) who teach him that dancing can be cool.

Stephen’s various trials and minor triumphs are punctuated by songs, usually loosely based on a pop track; everything from the Beatles (“I am the Partridge, coo-coo-cachoo”) to a brilliantly wittys version of Beyonce’s Single Ladies, via a Somerset rendition of Kelis’s Milkshake – sung by Daisy the cow for eight maids a-milking, of course. The songs are certainly highlights, and are really enhanced by some funny choreography, but the show could probably do with a few more to further break up the often breakneck speed at which Stephen and the Partridge race through the various verses.

The deliberately dodgy sets, props and costumes mean that there’s a nice handmade feeling to this production, with which fans of the Mighty Boosh will be very familiar, but that controlled shambolicness did jar somewhat with the rather conventional Trafalgar Studios venue.

Stephen and the Sexy Partridge started life in the tiny Old Red Lion theatre, and while it sounds like an insult to say that it might have been better if it had stayed there, one does get the feeling that it might have been more fun. The show lends itself to – and I think would benefit from – more interaction with the audience, and more improvisation from what is clearly a naturally funny cast, but that sort of informality and intimacy is difficult to reproduce in a theatre. This may be a rather slight production, but it is nevertheless warm and genuinely unusual, and a nice alternative to the more traditional ‘oh yes it is’ festive offerings.

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