Wednesday, 18 December 2013

'Sue: The Second Coming', at Bristol Old Vic

For a musical comedy drag show to stand out in a crowded genre, it needs something more than for the main character to just wear intentionally frumpy clothes, a deliberately bad fringe and a goofy grin. In Sue: The Second Coming, the ‘something more’ is that Sue (played by Dafydd James) is pregnant with the son of God after a brief encounter in Debenhams.

But since that’s only brought in 30 minutes before the end of this 90 minute production, that’s not really enough to carry it. Instead, we’re led through on likeability, some decent enough tunes and a heavy dose of nostalgia-fuelled humour. There’s the 1970s-style drinks cabinet gags, the Christmas jumper gags, and – inexplicably – an enormous advent calendar behind the doors of which are a succession of former child stars (“Bonnie Langford” seems to be a recurring punchline, but we’re not told what the joke is). A gag that seemingly warrants its own song but has no place in the narrative.

And that’s a problem with Sue: The Second Coming… that there is no narrative. While that doesn’t need to be a problem if the material is strong enough to hold it, a 90-minute show with no strong gags and no direction soon becomes a drag in more ways than one.

The biggest problem, though, was that over the piano we couldn’t hear most of the words in the songs… meaning we missed most of the jokes in this largely musical show. So perhaps if we’d been able to hear the words, we’d have found this a lot more funny and entertaining than we actually did. Because looking online, Sue: The Second Coming not only has a cult following but wins rave reviews, so we’re clearly missing something. But looking around the Bristol Old Vic’s Paintshop, there wasn’t a great deal of laughter from anybody… so perhaps nobody else could hear the jokes either.

But even on the songs without piano, the sound levels were so out of whack that we still struggled to hear many of the lyrics… and the instruments played by Dafydd’s backing trio were also completely inaudible. That aside, Dafydd’s singing as Sue was basically a high-pitched squawk, which made it even harder to try and work out the words. My friend and I couldn’t help but think that if Dafydd had sung in his own voice it would have upped the comedy factor and helped people to actually hear the lyrics.

With 30 minutes lopped off the running time and a really tight soundcheck, Sue: The Second Coming could be a great night out. But as it stands, if it’s festive theatre fun you’re after, I’d recommend you head next door to the Bristol Old Vic’s main theatre for The Little Mermaid – which is an absolute treat of a show.

For more information and to book tickets, click here.

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