Wednesday 7th March 2018 at Harrogate Theatre.
Gonzo Moose Theatre offer up a wacky array of sights and sounds as three academics re-enacting a pseudo historical expedition. Directed by Abigail Anderson and co-written by both the cast and director, the production is a re-take of Scott’s trek across Antarctica with a new hero: Scot-t-t, who happens to be the grandfather of one of our grinning academics. Scot-t-t’s band of bonkers brothers in arms find themselves at the mercy of a supernatural ‘thing’ which infects and/or violently kills them one by one as they battle the elements and the unknown enemy. The Thing that Came from Over There is apparently ‘inspired by 1950s horror movies’ and therefore is clunkily self-aware and over-acted to the fullest extent. Though not my usual choice, I’ve been won over by weird, wacky and wonderful shows before; I was puzzled at first but cackling by the end of Don’t Wake the Damp; bemused by Something Terrible Might Happen and won over very quickly by Seaside Terror. I do have a track record of being pleasantly surprised by self-certified silly spoof shows, but this production just didn’t really click with me.Zany in a Bottom-style, the characters presented are mostly loud, hollow archetypes and seek comedy through silly voices and a juvenile script. Had this been marketed specifically as a kid’s show which promised a panto-type undertone for the grown ups, it would find greater success I think – particularly as Dick and Dom don’t feel too far from popping out of the wings at any given time. Don’t get me wrong, the audience were laughing – I’ll never cheat any company out of that acknowledgement, but for me, the laughs were few and that comes down to a script that lacks the sharpness or wild combinations so well crafted by other silly farces that I’ve seen. Perhaps the choice of the old school adventure narrative lacked appeal, but somehow despite the energy of the cast, it felt lack-lustre on the comedy front.Mark Dawson plays George Cranston, proud descendant of Scottt who happens to be accident prone and a bit tragic. Joining Dawson is Ben Whitehead who offers some recognisable if a little predictable variety of fools within his catalogue of characters – his narcissistic poser being the best played with the most laughs attached. By far the best performance comes from Alys Torrance whose pipe smoking, beany donning ancient crew member Jeff gives way to some easy humour. His dramatic claims of supernatural threat are delivered with rib-tickling melodrama which sees co-stars quaking in their boots and Torrance’s gruff delivery is nicely contrasted with the other sweet voiced characters she plays. In fact, each of Torrance’s characters steal any given scene as she successfully adapts voice, posture and token costume pieces for stints as various men and one frustrated woman; of the three, it is Torrance who presents most confidently as a seasoned comic performer. The sequence with the three performers swapping hats on each other’s heads as they each shift characters at great speed is possibly the comic highlight of the entire piece, with Torrance stealing the show once more while flitting between bawdy, utterly crackers Jeff alongside other, gentler beings.The show begins with promise – blackout disaster as the retro projector dies and the cast foolishly think they can fix it without the audience noticing; loudly whispering, bumping into things and shining head torches into the audience. There are self-conscious apologies and a re-start. I was entirely on board, but from there the piece begins to sink, leaving only a few more examples of well timed interruptions and shambolic mistakes. For the most part, the first half feels stretched, with the cast hopping in and out of their re-enactment to remind us that they are re-enacting the TRUE story behind the false famous story. As the academics, they assure us that the following scenes with be hideous and encourage us to prepare ourselves – such assertions raise smiles rather than belly laughs though, probably because it feels like a children’s party delivery rather than a spoof aimed at young hearted adults. The second half offers up some nice moments of imaginative staging and decidedly more and better comic moments than the first half. The team build a tent by re-purposing props; fabrics become creatures and simple trickery with minor costume changes offer up an array of quirky characters meeting their fate. The deaths are hyperbolic and mockingly gory as the cast flail about while balls of rope eat their faces; bubble wrap comes in handy as a running joke of stomach-churning injuries and an old school projector allows for some nice tongue in cheek comedy as shadow puppets depict laughably ridiculous death scenes.The Thing that Came from Over There is by no means completely ineffectual in its attempts to tickle, but there’s just not enough substance to the script or the comedy so the piece rests predominantly on the pedestrian devices of funny faces, voices, over-used stock fools and false starts which just doesn’t quite cut it for me. Did I laugh? Yes. Did I laugh a lot? Not at all and I wasn’t the only one; the man to my right was certainly guffawing and having the time of his life, but the lady to my left and another in front didn’t laugh once – and a few people left during the brief interval. That said, someone also labelled it ‘genius’ on the way out, so I’ve come to the conclusion that this is definitely a Marmite show… I think it would go down a treat with adolescents and fans of Bottom and the like, but if you’re looking for farce with sharp wit which goes beyond what is simply and endlessly silly while offering nothing more, this might not be for you.