BWW Review: TICKLE, King's Head Theatre
Endurance tickling (yes, it's a real thing!) might not seem the most obvious subject matter for a play, however Tickle is actually based - albeit loosely - on fact. Inspired by the documentary Tickled, this new musical comedy is playing at the King's Head Theatre.
Chris (James McDowall in his professional debut) and Callum (Ben Brooker) are in something of a rut. Living in a quiet one-horse town, Chris is hoping to go to university whilst Callum is stuck in a dead-end job. When play fighting leads to tickling one another in a park, the two friends are witnessed by Davina Diamond (Amy Sutton), who works for the Tina Tickle Empire. When she explains that endurance tickling competitions are lucrative, the boys are lured in by the financial incentives and potential fame on offer.
Chris Burgess is responsible for the book, music and lyrics, and it has to be said that although the premise seems a little on the peculiar side, the play actually addresses a number of serious issues - with exploitation and bullying being two examples. It's far more complex and multi-layered than you might expect, whilst at the same time being laugh-out-loud funny.
A prompt pace is sustained throughout this short, one-act play. Burgess and director Robert McWhir succeed in balancing the light-hearted and comical elements with the weightier subject matter, and the four-strong cast more than deliver - with all clearly invested in the project.
Richard Watkins as Tina Tickle is utterly outrageous, captivating and hysterical, commanding the stage in all of his scenes and delivering a completely camp tour-de-force performance. He is clearly having fun in the role and makes the character his own.
Amy Sutton as Davina is sublime, showcasing excellent vocals and relishing the ruthless businesswoman persona her character inhabits.
The chemistry between McDowall and Brooker allows the relationship between their characters to be convincing and layered. The two also demonstrate impressive vocal ability and capture the playful banter that only best friends enjoy. The actors are relatively new to the stage, and if these performances are anything to go by, they have exciting futures ahead.
Choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane ensures the tickling sequences as well as the dancing effectively utilises the space and allows all audience members a clear view, which can be a challenge in this particular theatre.
What's also of note is that the songs really add to the story and propel the play forward. There are 17 short numbers in total, with musical director David Eaton on piano. While some of the lyrics carry a degree of poignancy, others are simply hilarious.
This late night show is certainly unique, memorable and immensely entertaining, but it also has something to say. This is theatre at its most fun.
Photo credit: Peter H. Davies