Tom Neenan: Vaudeville



Underbelly, Med Quad

Tom Neenan is a brilliant raconteur. At last year’s festival he beguiled us with his riff on the Professor Quatermass stories of Nigel Kneale. This year, his influences seem to have come from the Amicus portmanteau films of the 60s and 70s.

We are seated in near darkness when Neenan, dressed as a security guard, enters by torch light. We quickly learn that it’s his birthday and he sits down to enjoy a celebratory Lucozade – then does a wonderful double take as he realises he’s not alone.

He tells us that we are in an old theatre and that there are many stories associated with it. He goes on to regale us with three dark tales in which, as ever, he plays every character, switching effortlessly from role to role. We’re told about a lovelorn magician and his evil ventriloquist’s dummy, Mr Nibbles (shades of Cavalcanti’s Dead of Night, here) then there’s the story of a celebrated Shakespearian actor and his deadly rivalry with a critic (Theatre of Blood?) and finally the tale of an ambitious teenage ballet dancer prepared to give everything in order to win a regional prize. As is customary in such constructions, there’s a final, brilliant twist in the tale, one that ingeniously makes us, the audience, part of the show. It’s brilliant stuff. I read recently that Neenan started off in a double act with Nish Kumar and I would be fascinated to see how that worked, since I can’t think of two more diverse performers.

Vaudeville  was sold out the afternoon we saw it and fully deserved to be. If you can get a ticket for this, do so. You won’t be disappointed.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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