Innuendo and smut have long been the staple of British humour. Think seaside postcards, The Goodies, and Barbara Windsor’s camping trip. As a country that has given the world “Ooh, Matron!” and sweet transvestites galore, Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens continues this grand tradition of finding fun in being very very naughty.
Since its first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1995, the show, written by Charlotte Mann and Michael Fidler with music by Jonathan Croose and Robin Forrest, has gained cult status and a fanatic following. Therefore, this off-West End revival has been much anticipated and is incredibly appreciated, especially with Leanne Jones among its cast, who won the Critics Circle “Best Newcomer” award for her role as Tracey Turnblad in Hairspray.
Directed by well known choreographer Stuart Saint, his sturdy portfolio of cabaret and variety means he knows exactly what this show needs, and how to do it well. He’s made every effort to ensure the show is as fun, energetic, and slick as possible, but also understands the need for informality and audience intimacy for the show: this is a wild affair that is notorious for plenty of audience interaction. The musical doesn’t pretend to be Lloyd-Webber or Sondheim, so making this more Madame Jojo’s than the Palladium is just what Dr Von Whackoff ordered. Saint turns the small “lounge” space into a convincingly dingy, gaudy, and sleazy nightclub, complete with catwalk, glitter balls, and a dancing pole. The audience sit on slinky leather poofs (steady on) as if you’re actually the intergalactic audience at Saucy Jack’s. Furthermore, even before the show starts, Saint employs a support act in the guise of ravishingly voiced Leanne Osbourne, to help the audience relax, limber up, and get into the mood.
As for the show itself, it’s absolutely mad. If you ever imagined what it would be like if Kenneth Williams did cocaine with Jane Fonda, this would be it. Although often compared to The Rocky Horror Show, it’s actually more like a sci-fi B-Movie crash-landing into a panto in 1969; campy, outrageous, retro, and unabashed. You’ve got everything from drag and effeminate German stereotypes, to the cast dry-humping bubblewrap, and even a bit of light lesbian necrophilia. Not to mention more glitter and glitz than you can shake your disco-stick at.
But for all its double entendres, single entendres, and general WTF-ness, it’s actually a well written and very knowing show. Those who are more familiar with popular musical and/or classic disco hits will pick up on the torrent of cheeky little references and in-jokes throughout. These go to show that Mann and Fidler are a pair of intelligent and well versed – if not just a tad shameless – writers. But it’s also well-paced and never runs away with itself, which, given the hedonistic and crazed nature of the show, is actually quite impressive. There really isn’t a weak moment or a scene that’s just a bit “too much” to grumble about.
As for the songs themselves, they’re incredibly catchy and aplomb with fun. You’ll be humming and dancing “All I Need is Disco” and “Glitter Boots Saved My Life” for days afterwards.
The cast are also truly behind the show, despite how ridiculous it is. There is a sense of wild abandon, frivolity, and talent that comes from each and every member. Jones, though downsizing from the Shaftsbury Theatre to something you can barely swing a dead vole in, takes to the production like a fish to water. Her voice and demeanour has the power, class, and sass worthy of Space Vixen, Bunny Lingus. Further more, actor and drag artist Marcus Reeves excels in his role as the randy and limp-wristed Dr Von Whackoff, effortlessly managing to consistently upstage his rather dashing wig, and Lisa Gorgin is sensational as the busty, lusty, but dangerous Chesty Prospects.
But it’s Ralph Bogard as Saucy Jack himself who really steals the show. A veritable ringmaster of this outer space peep show-cum-circus, he chimes to the tone of melodrama villain perfectly. His comic timing, and rapport and interaction with the audience, all feel perfectly spontaneous. He performs Act I finale “Tortured Plaything” with knock-out panache and power that really marks him as an actor to watch, as well as showing what he’s really capable of after his involvement in the rather unfortunate Mile High: The Musical.
The only issue with the show is the sound. Unfortunately, the equipment in the “lounge”, being such a tiny space, means it’s not quite adequate for the task at hand. With the cast sharing a number of microphones and singing along to a backing track, but with un-amplified dialogue, the balance is not quite there, meaning at points you loose some of the words to the songs. It begs for a live band and everybody radio-mic’d up. But then, the intimacy of the venue and the how this production is set up is really something special, and it would be a real shame to loose what ultimately adds to the whole experience. Style only just about covers for substance, but if it wasn’t for such fantastic material, this would be a serious issue.
But other than that, like a fetish number from nowhere, this is a scream of a night out; a supreme guilty pleasure that will leave you whooping, laughing, and begging for more. It’s time to strap on your glitter boots and book a space shuttle to Frottage III: the Space Vixens are waiting.
Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 15 September 2013. Tickets are £18.50. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.