Aired at 9pm on Sunday 15 November 2015 on BBC Four
Reviewed for Cultbox – read the original review here
The BBC’s On Stage season has thrown up a few gems and the Beeb should be applauded for their efforts to expose regional theatre to a wider national audience.
However, Live from Television Centre showcased four very different performances which proved to be a mixed bag of talent.
My biggest bugbear of any live television is when the host (in this case, Newsnight‘s Kirsty Wark) repeatedly reminds the audience that it’s live and “anything could happen”, ramming it down our throats in an attempt to force pity on anything that comes goes a bit wrong. Surely it’s obvious that live shows, especially live drama, will have been rehearsed multiple times to ensure camera angles and other technical elements work to time? But I digress.
The Time of Your Life by Gecko was simply astonishing; 25 minutes of absolute delight. Focusing on one man’s journey through life from birth to death and everything in between and after, this work could accurately be described as physical theatre at its best.
The choreography was fluid and sublime, beautiful to watch and adding to the narrative rather than intruding upon it. I love a good twist – when the curtains are torn back towards the end and the real reality is laid bare, it dawns on you why this could only really be shown in a setting like Television Centre with an ending reminiscent of Being John Malkovich or The Truman Show. Utterly excellent.
Sadly, the programme went from a great height with Gecko to plunge head first into an empty swimming pool with visual artist Richard DeDomenici. He’s a visual artist who has made a name for himself with his Redux Project – recreating movie clips in the locations they were originally filmed but on a much tighter budget.
The results are genuinely amusing but it became quickly apparent that it isn’t a format that entirely works with live television. Starting with a recreation of Alan Partridge’s arrival at Television Centre in an expletive covered Rover 800, DeDomenici put Blake Harrison from The Inbetweeners in a cardboard cut-out and then mock asked him to do it again because the angle wasn’t quite right (don’t forget, it’s live so “anything could happen”).
Covering such live TV “highlights” as Five Star being sworn at on Going Live and a couple of Eurovision tracks, the only smile raised was seeing a man dressed in blue Lycra with ping pong balls attached wearing an elephant mask to recreate the infamous Blue Peterdung incident. The punchline spoiled the moment: “What do you mean the special effects didn’t work? That cost us thousands!” Anything could happen, remember?
Our third instalment was Bradford-based Common Wealth with No Guts, No Heart, No Glory, based on real-life interviews with Muslim female boxers. It was a step up from the travesty that came before it but it simply didn’t stand a chance following Gecko’s breath-taking opening.
Whilst Common Wealth’s narrative was interesting, the performances were misjudged with inappropriate pausing mid-sentence in attempts to sound earnest and some underdeveloped choreography. It did, however, open my eyes to a world I had no idea existed, although I could’ve predicted that their parents wouldn’t have liked their choice to box.
The final performance was the only one that had any real legitimacy to claim “anything could happen”. Touretteshero appeared a few weeks ago on Russell Howard’s Good News and I was delighted to see her given another platform for her comedy.
Jessica Thom randomly says “biscuit” approximately 16,000 times a day as well as other tics and outbursts. Accompanied by Jess Mabel Jones, it was genuinely heart-warming to see their friendship on stage and to hear its origins, to listen to the prejudices that Thom has faced and for the mischievous part of me to see how Jones would cope with what Thom came out with. It didn’t always work (a scene with a Dalek felt a little forced) but it was the only segment to add a genuine live danger factor.
Overall, Live from Television Centre wasn’t entirely successful with more misses than hits, but it’s worth a watch, if only to be exposed to the magnificent Gecko (I don’t think I’ve mentioned how awesome they were, have I?!). Also worth checking out on BBC iPlayer is Brainstorm by Islington Community Theatre which explores the minds of teenagers; a piece that arguably deserved the place of another on the live broadcast.
With cuts to funding for the BBC and the arts looming, a huge thanks is owed to Battersea Arts Centre for collaborating on this project to showcase the diverse kaleidoscope of originality and talent that British theatres have to offer. Let’s hope they repeat this experiment in the future.