Fine and Dandy/The Cluedo Club Killings - A queer comic double bill tour de force

 

An epic tale told in the style of an early 20th century music hall show and a whodunit farce – both very funny and both very queer.

The Arcola Queer Collective is back with two delightful, ambitious, large cast productions.  A departure from previous years, these are two new works performed for the first time.


Fine and Dandy

Queer theatre legend, Sue Frumin brings us a crazy flight of fancy. We follow the journey of Ernest Faigele Fine, played captivatingly by Rach Skyer, and his/her/their journey from a Jewish shtetel near Minsk, via Blackpool, the Western Front during World War 1 and onto the Ringling Circus in Oklahoma. Ernest tries to make a living, performing magic tricks, dancing and singing; a Yiddish ‘When I am cleaning windows’ complete with ukulele is a treat!

9 other versatile performers bring Ernest’s world to life. They illustrate all ages and genders: the Jewish family, the Manchester mill workers, the music hall performers, assorted cowboys, sailors, Liverpudlians, Scots, Irish, Americans and others met along the way.

In particular, though, it is the personal relationships that give the piece real warmth and heart. There is the double act and the relationship with Dandy, touchingly played by Dani Singer, the male impersonator from Hackney, disrupted by jealous rival performer Lulu, a wonderfully waspish Bex Large. Another standout is the snake, Ethel, deftly brought to life, ‘Lion King’ like by the engaging and versatile Oliver Retter. Mention must be made too of other characters. You can never unsee Dan de la Motte’s grotesque Beryl Shufflebottom as Eve in the Garden of Eden.  James Ferguson is all too convincing as shyster Musical Hall Manager Midori. Tasmine Airey, Layla Baudelaire, Shane Quinn and Dian Cathal round out the cast, energetically with multiple characters.

Bringing this to the stage is the director Jonathan Richardson. He rises expertly to the challenge, pulling all this together to ensure a fast, witty, quick costume/character change broad sweep of a show. It is clear that both Jonathan and Sue have a real love and knowledge of Music Hall, this most British of art forms. They have queered it and revived it superbly for a 21st century audience.

 
The Cluedo Club Killings 

Good bye Morse, au revoir Poirot – ditch white cis male cops and detective ‘heroes.’ Retire Nancy Drew and Miss Marple. There is a new sleuth in town - queer, person of colour, psychology student, Esther Jones (a sparkling performance by Natasha Sophia Brown).

Someone is bumping off the members of the university Cluedo Club, one by one. The Met don’t seem to be up to solving the case because of ‘Tory austerity cuts’. Or so thinks our intrepid Esther.

Director Nat Kennedy has deftly brought Robert Holton’s clever fast paced farce to the stage. The play deconstructs that Sunday night comfy TV formula of the whodunit without too much blood, so as not to upset the ITV viewers, satirising and queering with great panache.

The ‘Watson’ is Stu (Alex Marlow), the perfect foil to the over enthusiastic and rather too meddlesome Esther. Stu is constantly interrupted, whilst trying to write an essay and points out that Esther’s methodology of trying to solve the murders as if this IS Agatha Christie, doesn’t work in the ‘real world’.

This gives Robert Holton a great opportunity to explore the formulaic world of murder mystery in popular hetero-entertainment. There is also a cheeky swipe swipe at horror genre slasher movies too.  This being the Arcola Queer Collective – its more than just a cosy farcical sit-com.

Gender, love and identity is tackled in a fun matter of fact way. The audience it not being lectured to, but rather comes away from the play, empowered, knowing that even in TV murder mystery fiction there is no room for stereotypes or tokenism. Anyone can be or do what they want. No more barriers in real life, or fiction for that matter!

This is a big ensemble cast and all manage their roles with aplomb, ensuring the audience keep up with the mad cap twists and turns all the way to the big reveal at the end (no spoilers here).

 

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