Upstairs at the Arts, Leicester Sq
(This production has now closed)
In the nicest possible way and from the very bottom of my heart…. Apocalypse Cruise Ship Love Affair is completely preposterous. Of course it is. Look at what it’s called! Campy. Outlandish. Loud and messy – it grabs you by the maracas and makes you shake shake shake. And it’s exactly that chaotic no shame sense of the ridiculous that made me fall a little bit in love with it.
Its nuts. Completely fucking nuts.
And I’m not going to lie, most of the time I didn’t really have a clue what was going on. There’s a classic (read bonkers) tale of unrequited love. There’s the end of the world. Lascivious pensioners. We’re raising the dead. Everyone is going to die… And the Captain is in love – well at least I think he is… It really doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that it’s basically Sunset Beach meets Titanic in the middle of a Bette Davis nightmare – it’s vaguely complicated, it’s set to hilarious tunes and it should be on TV in weekly instalments to get you through your hangovers…
Theo McCabe and Steve Duffy have an interesting and diverse sensibility and for a film geek who’s equally in love with B movie noir, 70’s camp disaster, Monty Python and the Carry on Team, watching this pandemonium unfold is beautiful. Just beautiful. They break pretty much every rule I’ve learnt as a writer, multi-storied totally twisty convoluted plots, I literally have no idea where some of the accents are coming from but I’m sure as hell they’re written that way, they break the golden no pun rule, so many coincidences – but they do it with such devastating skill, that not only do I just not care, I kind of want to hug them for it!
There’s something about it that reminds me both of the campy gay disco messy night that gave me the hangover, and the Sunday morning wholesome cure for said hangover – all at the same time.
Musically – sure – it’s not Sondheim but it’s as catchy as shit and we left the theatre humming away with grins on our faces – Six Inches of Face was probably my favourite, and much like his book, McCabe’s musical sensibilities do nothing but add to that glorious sense of anarchy. They probably could have pushed the discordance and indeed the choreography a little more – but you know what, there’s enough going on.
In terms of performances, Joe McArdle, Will Hearle and Rosalind Ford are stand out for me. McArdle finds something really sweet and lost behind the Captain’s acerbic wit, whilst Will Hearle channels his inner Kenneth Williams and should always be given a platform to do so. Ford’s Vera is just… it just is. I basically spent most of the show just crying with laughter at her.
The only downsides for me were in the space and the design, and maybe in a way that’s the same thing. I love the Arts Theatre. I’ve seen two great shows in the upstairs space there in the last two weeks alone – it’s actually amazing to see a West End venue taking punts on interesting new work. But maybe upstairs wasn’t quite right for this one. I’d have loved to have seen this downstairs. On a proper stage with a bigger set. Caitlin Abbot does the best with what she has for that space – but I’d love her too to be able to go as crazy with the design as the rest of the creative team are able to do. It’s perhaps more about the limitations of what she has to work with – but I’d like to see more.. I want to see something as camp and outrageous as the rest of it! At times there was a sense of feeling cramped, but we can’t blame the creative team for that – and indeed I’d love to see what they could do with a larger production, a bigger space.
All up though. It’s a great show. A fun night. My boyfriend has been trying to get me to go on a cruise for like ever, and given that I’m seasick and have a severe sense of stranger danger I’ve been resisting, really resisting – but seriously, if the cruise he’s suggesting next year is anything like this – even with the end of the world – I’d be really tempted!
Although not quite perfect (but that doesn’t mean it needs polishing – on the contrary that might do more harm than good) Apocalypse Cruise Ship Love Affair more than delivers and I can’t wait to see both – A – the bigger version of this and B – the next offering from this bonkers brazen bunch!
4 very large stars.
© Stephen Laughton 2016