Ever had a night at the theatre where, by the end, you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the show but ultimately are totally confused about what you have seen? Well, I had just such a night at the Above the Stag theatre which is currently playing host to Queereteria TV.
Thanks to an accident whilst doing something interesting with a senior member of the royal family, Lady Domina Bizarre (Matthew Baldwin) has caused the planet to be pretty much decimated. Now, thanks to her actions, there is only one television channel available, funnily enough, run by and starring Lady Dominina. The channel comes from an old gay cruising club called Queereteria. Lady Domina’s show is called ‘Club Bizarre’ and, as well as the lady herself is presented by people she is control of including Rupert (Peter Straker) and the former celebrity singer Torsten (Andy Bell) now over 100 and locked in a cryogenic chamber as the show’s resident feature. But the Lady’s days may be numbered as Torsten’ lover Daniel (Barney Ashton-Bullock) has arrived at the studio to free Tosten and the world from the grips of Domina. As he attempts to do so, there are flashbacks to their earlier lives where a young Torsten (Tom Mann) and Daniel (William Spencer) met, fell in love and dreamed of a future completely different from the one they are enduring now.
I love a play that makes you think and boy, does Queereteria TV do that. From the start, as you walk in and observe David Shields’ amazing set, the show grips you. I was mesmerised by the – I’m guessing 1950s – UK civil defence film about how the country would survive a nuclear war, so that when the show itself started, it took me, and a few other members of the audience by surprise. Writer Barney Ashton-Bullock has really put together something that could almost become the definition of bizarre. There is an awful lot going on in the script. In the program notes, Ashton-Bullock describes his characters as a band of dysfunctional queers and that feels a very apt description of them but then there are times when they are, for want of a better word, ‘normal’ with the same emotional needs as regular people. In this strange and eclectic television programme – in which we are the studio audience – there is a whole selection of funny homages to various well-known shows of today. My personal favourite was the Dragons Den take-off which actually had me howling with laughter throughout. The problem, for me, was that the whole thing was a bit too bizarre and out there and, to be honest, I felt that at least some of the musical numbers were merely there to show off Andy Bell’s very impressive voice.
Looking at the program once more and it’s really difficult to associate the picture of Matthew Baldwin – who looks like he could be an accountant in the shot – with the truly dreadful, foul-mouthed, vindictive, nasty and generally all round bad person that is the Lady Domina Bizarre. Baldwin’s portrayal is first-rate and makes Domina someone that is a born survivor, not prepared to let anyone or thing get in her way. As an audience member, I despised the horrible creature but at the same time really loved her and the way she behaved – as long as I wasn’t the one receiving a verbal tongue lashing from her. Funnily enough, one of my favourite moments of the show, both from the perspective of writing and acting, occurred in the second act when Domina and Young Torsten chatted about the old days in the club and how their respective careers had started. There was great chemistry between Tom Mann and Matthew Baldwin that really worked in one of the few really sensible parts of the show.
Director Robert McWhir works hard to keep the story – such as it is – moving along at a fair old pace and William Spencer’s choreography – mainly just for him and Tom Mann – had some nice touches of Fosse and Bourne, not to mention really poetic ballet movements in it. The various songs by composer Christopher Frost – who is also MD – were enjoyable, and I believe there is a concept album of these being released.
Overall, Queereteria TV is a difficult show to review. I had a long chat, both in the interval and after, with another reviewer and was pleased to note that I wasn’t the only person that didn’t really understand it. Possibly the show needed cutting slightly and the narrative tightening but the really bizarre thing was when it ended, I left the theatre feeling that I had been thoroughly entertained – I’m just not sure how.
Review by Terry Eastham
England, the near future, post-Armageddon.
A merry if dysfunctional band of surviving queers take over the TV station and recreate their all-time favourite programme Club Queereteria, broadcast live from the ruins of an infamous cruising club. State-sanctioned entertainer Torsten (Andy Bell) emerges from his sedated stupor to remember times past and lovers lost, and to re-unite adversaries to resist a terrifying future!
Queereteria TV is the bold and beserk new musical from the makers of Torsten: The Beautiful Libertine.
Andy Bell is Torsten in… QUEERETERIA TV
by Barney Ashton-Bullock & Christopher Frost
directed by Robert McWhir
10 Apr — 28 Apr 2019