Ok, what musical is a satirical comedy set in a dark, toxic dystopian world? Urinetown! Nope, it involves romance and monsters…Rocky Horror? Wrong again, okay it involves a zombie…Zombie Prom?
Sure, it may sound like your typical comedy horror rock musical set in New Jersey about a geek falling in love with a blind girl and drowning in toxic waste, later turning into a bloodthirsty zombie. BUT WAIT, it’s not Off-West End? After it’s triumphant run at the Southwark Playhouse in 2016, The Toxic Avenger has transferred to the Arts Theatre to deliver a hilarious, colourful show of musical escapism.
It’s such a fringe idea, producing a show based on a camp, violent B-movie which kept getting rejected by numerous cinemas in America. Yet it’s Benji Sperring’s constantly pacey and enthusiastic direction which brings out the tongue in cheek nature of the plot and characters that makes you love the show so much more.
For an exceptionally bonkers show, you need an exceptional cast. Absolute props to the casting director then for their job on this. The troublesome duo Ché Francis and Oscar Conlon-Morrey constantly keep the energy up with their zany personalities, strong contrasts in what feels like their hundreds of characters they have to play and their loud brash presence in each scene. Oscar as the hippy folk singer and Ché as Shinequa (or in my opinion, an incredible Jasmine Masters impersonator) are major highlights.
Natalie Hope also does an amazing job in her costume changes and never letting her vocal drop, particularly in the subtly titled ‘Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore’. Just a point, this is the finale number of Act One which is a solo number by only one of the supporting cast which I don’t think I’ve heard of before.
Mark Anderson as Toxie and Emma Salvo as Sarah also provide a genuinely sweet romance, both with some great vocals particularly Salvo’s. David Bryan’s music pushes all five cast members to their best vocally with its larger-than-life rock sound and huge volume in a pretty intimate venue for the West End. Plus, they are all genuinely catchy and funny. When you have a show featuring a song about Oprah, you can’t really go wrong.
The Toxic Avenger is so consistently laugh out loud that it’s actually exhausting even by the end of the first act and that you miss out on laughing at other moments. You then have to build up your stomach muscles again after the interval. Saying that, Jo DiPiero’s book and Sperring’s direction brings back the vintage days of comedy horror and science fiction in musicals such as Rocky Horror, adding a timeless feel to the show. Sure it may be a bit rough-around-the-edges in its plot, but The Toxic Avenger is so ridiculous in all of its production aspects and values that it becomes all the more charming.
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Photo: Irina Chira