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Tickle the Musical at the King’s Head Theatre | Review

Tickle the Musical Peter Davies
Tickle the Musical Peter Davies

How do you feel about tickling or being tickled?  After all, as babies and children, tickling is a part of life, and many a youngster has been reduced to a helpless mess of giggling by a good old tickle. As you get older, there comes a point where it is not necessarily felt as appropriate to tickle or be tickled. However, if you were to Google the words “competitive endurance tickling” you will find a plethora of websites covering the subject. You will also find details of a 2016 documentary by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve. The reason I’m talking about this is because the documentary has now spawned a new musical by Chris Burgess called Tickle which I recently saw at the King’s Head Theatre.

In a boring, run-down town, Chris (James McDowall) and Callum (Ben Brooker) are bemoaning their lives.  Chris is hoping to get into university while Curtis has nothing more exciting to look forward to than night shift at a local kebab house.  As the two boys wander through the park moaning, they start mucking about, play fighting and then tickling each other. Their horseplay is spotted by a be-suited businesswoman by the name of Davina Diamond (Amy Sutton).  Davina introduces herself as a representative of Tina Tickle (Richard Watkins) and offers the boys the chance to make some serious money by taking part in filmed competitive endurance tickling competitions. Whilst initially not too sure, the lure of money and potential fame turns the boys’ heads.  After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Tickle is a nice show that is a lot of fun. The four strong cast work well together to deliver a story that is both amusing and contains some very serious elements – blackmail, bullying and unrequited love to name but three.  James and Ben both look good and really throw themselves into their parts as Chris and Callum respectively. Who knew tickling could be so physical? Richard totally camps it up as Tina and Amy is perfect as ruthless business woman Davina. Together, the four of them bring, what seems like an outlandish tale – though based on a real life story – to life in excellent style.  For a one act play lasting just over an hour, there are a lot of songs – seventeen in all, with no repeats – but writer/composer Chris Burgess has ensured that each of them fits into place and are there to support and move on the narrative. The favourites for me were “Drab Town – a good scene setter, rather in the style of Little Shop of Horrors “Down Town”, the wonderfully tilted “It’s Not Gay” – never believe anything until it’s officially denied – “silver Lining” and the song that has now become my own personal mantra “What Would Julie Andrews Do”.  There is an issue with sound unfortunately and, if you are sitting in the wrong place, Musical Director David Eaton’s piano can drown out the non-miked actors singing voices at times.

Director Robert McWhir uses every inch of the traverse stage, though thanks to the odd layout of the King’s Head seats, this can lead to minor blocking issues.  But, to be fair, there is a lot of movement with both dance numbers and tickling fights beautifully choreographed by Sam Spencer-Lane to ensure they look good and nobody gets hurt.  Add to this Richard Lambert’s overall design and lighting – particularly during Tina Turner’s opening number and you have a first rate production overall.

Summing up Tickle I will say it is a great fun show that has a lot of heart and is very, very entertaining. I now know that there are lots of people out there for whom tickling is more than a pastime to amuse kids. Whilst I personally am not a tickle aficionado, I do know a really good show when I see one and Tickle is just that.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Two young good looking guys are made a curious offer: they can earn decent money from being ticklish. Really? Yes, it’s a sport; and ‘it’s not gay!’ Amazingly based on a true story, TICKLE takes us into the strange, hilarious, twisted, and undeniably sexy world of competitive endurance tickling, where it’s all about laughing and lasting longest, but apparently not about lust.

This adventure brings two mates closer together, but is it too close for comfort? And who is ‘Tina Tickle’ who seems to hold all the strings?

Book, Music and Lyrics Chris Burgess
Director Robert McWhir
Musical Director David Eaton
Choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane
Technical Designer Richard Lambert
Producer LAMBCO Productions

King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN
Monday 14th October to Saturday 26th October 2019
Press Night: Wednesday 16th October 2019
All Performances at 9.30pm

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