Cast your mind back to the various elections (both General and Bi) that you may have seen over the years. The chances are that if you are over a certain age, one of your best memories of watching elections was to see the bizarre top-hatted, leopard print jacket wearing chap at the back smiling happily as he lost yet another deposit. But, have you ever taken a moment to stop and think about this man, who he was, what he stood for and, why he did it all? Me neither. Well now you can as the Soho Theatre presents Monster Raving Loony
Tracing the history of David Edward Sutch (Samuel James) from his earliest memories through to his final days, Monster Raving Loony tells David’s story through a series of sketches, each of them in the style of popular culture at the time. So, in the course of around 100 minutes, we get to see Sutch’s tale as though watching a television where we are continually flicking the remote. There is variety, pantomime, sit-com, satire, talk-show and a whole range of different programmes used as a storytelling device. The cast – Joseph Alessi, Joanna Brookes, Jack Brown, Vivienne Acheampong and Tom Attwood – take on a variety of roles in the narrative and, I have to say, some of my favourite shows got an airing as we moved along. TW3 (if you are old enough to remember it), Steptoe and Son, Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper, The Carry On films and even Yes Minister, all had their scenes and all pretty much worked really well and some of the imitations were uncannily lifelike.
If the above all sounds a bit mad, then I would like to say that you are wrong. It is totally loony but somehow works amazingly well to both tell a story and provide an entertaining evening. Writer James Graham has taken what was, if we are really honest, a fairly run-of-the mill chap – joke politician and semi-successful singer – and brought his story to life in an exhilarating style. Some of the writing is so spot on that it’s quite scary. For example the Steptoe and Son scene between Sutch and his mother does everything the series used to do. One minute we were laughing uproariously and then there was a simple change of tone and the atmosphere changed and you could hear a pin drop in the attentive audience grasped the pathos of their situation. It was almost as if Galton and Simpson had written it and passed it over to James with their blessing. Director Simon Stokes along with Guest Director Cal McCrystal manage to keep the madcap story moving at a fair old lick but never to the point of losing anyone – even the youngsters in the audience seemed to recognise the majority of the shows referenced. The multi-talented cast – instrument playing actors are definitely ‘de rigueur’ these days – assumed a variety of roles brilliantly and Samuel James managed to keep Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow, just on the right side of completely manic and present a very human man who went through many crises of confidence as he searched for something to leave as a legacy.
At the end of the day, Monster Raving Loony is, rather like its main protagonist, one of the oddest things I have seen but works on so many levels. Just as was often done by the political elite, it is possible to dismiss this play as a bit of frippery but to do so would be to commit a grave error. So far, seven policies of the Monster Raving Loony Party have occurred – 24 hour licensing, pedestrianisation of Carnaby Street, passports for pets, voting age lowered to 18, abolition of dog licences, legalisation of commercial radio and abolition of the 11+ exam and in these days of bland, career politicians maybe there still is space for a successor to Screaming lord Sutch. Until then, we will just enjoy the story of the man in this wonderful production so madcap that I think the man have would have thoroughly approved of.
Review by Terry Eastham
Samuel James reprises his role as Screaming Lord Sutch in Monster Raving Loony by James Graham, which opens at Soho Theatre on 17th May running until 18th June 2016.
With its UK première earlier this year at The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth’s fast-paced, hilarious and (slightly) bonkers Monster Raving Loony brings its party fun and punkish anarchy to Soho Theatre. Using the life and exploits of Screaming Lord Sutch to examine the state of the nation and Britain’s post-war identity crisis, Samuel James reprises his critically acclaimed role as Sutch, a ventriloquist channelling the cultural voices around him.
Seen through the eyes of this one extraordinary man, James Graham displays his playwriting virtuosity and in his forensic, sardonic, finger on the pulse style, tells the story of Sutch through a cavalcade of comic characters from music hall to Monty Python, panto to Partridge. Can our British sense of humour begin to uncover who we are, where we have been and where we might be going next?