Sunday, July 10, 2005

Beyond the Fringe

Recently we went out with friends to see a local production of Beyond the Fringe at the Main Street Theater. Yes, it was an American cast performing the quintessentially British show; yes, they were doing accents. Okay? We'll just let that lie ("but you wouldn't let it lie..!"). It's amazing how well most of the bits stand up even with an American cast and setting. They offered a couple of updates -- substituting Blair for Macmillan, changing a line referring to African-Americans to Latinos to make better use of regional racism -- but for the most part the pieces work with little change. Perhaps, as in the case of the Civil Defence sequence, one can never overestimate the callous disregard politicians and bureaucrats will show the public. In many cases though, it is simply the loopy acknowledgement of just how foolish people are. Although I tended to hear the original voices of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett in my head, the cast -- which unlike the original, actually included a (pregnant) woman -- did a credible job of handling the humor, although sometimes cultural differences were a detriment. For exmaple in "Take a Pew," Bennett's send up of a clueless Anglican minister's sermon on the apparently randomly chosen verse ("But my brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man"), much of the humor is wrung out of the lines by Bennett's very dry and understated delivery. The MST version went more for the Joel Osteen-type bombast (not surprisingly). But some bits are just so funny, it doesn't matter who's reading the lines (well, provided they have some sense of timing), like Cook & Moore's "Frog and Peach" and "One Leg Too Few." Oh, and "The Great Train Robbery" remains one of the funniest wordplay bits ever.

I just finished Sunshine on Putty which I enjoyed despite a lot of reservations about the style (and the accuracy -- if he got things wrong that I knew like mistaking Smokey Robinson for Otis Redding (!) and calling Tod Browning's Freaks "the great silent classic," how many more things did he get wrong that I wouldn't know?). But as an overview of the 90s comedy in Britain, it hasn't much competition yet. Someday more people will realize the genius that is Vic. In the meantime, I've started Humphrey Carpenter's (much more competently written) A Great Silly Grin and, as usual, am always amazed at what a small country England is.

Speaking of amazing: in a theater we saw the trailer for Rob Zombie's new film which appeared to be entitled The Devils Rejects. Saw TV ads too. Finally, this weekend, it was changed at last to The Devil's Rejects. In all the many months of creating, marketing and exploiting the film, no one noticed the missing apostrophe? Wow. It's still incorrect on his website, which is needlessly Flash enhanced. How many posters did they print then fix?


throatsprockets said...

No offense, but the idea of Beyond the Fringe being Americanized fills me with horror. I am reminded of how a US tv network in the '70s wanted to buy the format of Monty Python's Flying Circus - yes they wanted Monty Python without Monty Python.

C. Margery Kempe said...

No offense taken; it is a pretty horrifying idea (especially with Texans in the cast). But we're so starved for British comedy (well, apart from watching our DVDs over and over) and love the experience of live theater so much -- well, we take what we can get. I remember the various MP debacles in the 70s -- including the lawsuit against the network that bought episodes then chopped them up. The Pythons won, in part (or so Cleese said on the Cavett show) because the judge was clearly a fan of the show which he concealed badly.

The same thing happened with AbFab -- that's what Cybill Shepherd's show was supposed to be. Ha! Unfortunately, the reality shows have transferred with much greater success (more's the pity).