REVIEW: GIMCRACKERY (Live at Zedel) ★★

gimcrackery‘Gimcrackery’ definition: ‘cheap, showy, useless trifles, ornaments, trinkets, etc.’

The performance is advertised as ‘A vaudevillian display of daring curiosity’. Words such as ‘MYSTERY!’ and ‘EXTRAVAGANZA!’ lured me into thinking I was about to see something rather unforgettable. It was, however, rather anti-climactic.

We were introduced to the alternative personality of Driscoll Bleak, ‘part Victorian collector, part explorer, and part curator of the occult’, who proceeded to promise us a night of melodrama and ‘mesmerising acts’ of whom he had hand-picked from his many travels. The gentleman playing Driscoll himself was a good host, very Hugh-Laurie-meets-Mr-Burns, which was a surprisingly pleasing mix. What occurred after his promising introduction was a very mixed bag of performances, some of whom mildly lived up to the bold promises in the show’s adverts, but most of whom just completely baffled me.

A lady dressed as a pig performed burlesque equipped with a lettuce and a bath full of water, later on returning to the stage as a beetle, and an OAP performed a striptease whereby she elicited the help of an unsuspecting male audience member to unbutton her chunky-knit cardigan. A gigantic jellyfish costume glides on to the stage temporarily, and an outlandish French woman sings two crude songs on an accordion. Add a bellydancer and a magician in there and you get the picture. It was unfalteringly bizarre.

Don’t get me wrong, I can handle odd. Oddity usually equates with originality and makes for something memorable – I applaud a unique approach – however, this was just rather reckless in its configuration. The bellydancer was actually very normal, hardly a ‘rare find’, and the magician, whilst suitably eccentric, was very likeable and could have been at any average birthday party. So, pit this against a woman with a snout ripping a lettuce across her bare breasts, and suddenly things seem a bit disjointed. It’s like the writer poured eccentricity into some sections of the evening but clawed it back completely the other way for other parts; like he or she couldn’t make up their mind.

This is a tricky one. The individual acts each had their moments of impressiveness. For example, the singing throughout was very good, particularly Anna-Lou the accordion-playing Frenchwoman, and the dancing from the burlesque performer was very entertaining. The cast projected some undeniable skills. But in the context of what the performance promised, nothing was at all ‘remarkable’. If put in front of a Victorian audience, then yes, it may have been considered exotic. However, for a 2016 audience, not so much, and it begs the question of what ‘Gimcrackery’ is trying to achieve. It ranged between presenting some genuine talent to being purely slapstick comedy, but then quite drastically changed to your everyday pub entertainment. Driscoll Bleak’s ‘collection’ promised to leave the audience ‘forever changed’, but it was actually just a deeply unsatisfying (and mentally wasteful) mish-mash of acts.

Whilst it had its moments of entertainment, overall I walked away feeling like I’d just been mis-sold a dodgy watch, with a huge chasm between what the flyer promised and what the show actually delivered. I think that this would have been more successful if only the show lived up to the Victorian vernacular of the advertising. There was talent in there and a definite likeability factor, but the problem lies with the overall effect: if you dare to put ‘extravaganza’ on the tin, you really need to deliver the goods.

Reviewed by Laura Evans