by Frankie Parham
For something with an exclamation mark in its title, you’d expect Roussos! to be loud, bizarre and confrontational. For all the promise of ‘Extra Special Guest Appearances from Sir Elton John and Dame Shirley Bassey’, writers Sam Caird and Jack Chedburn immediately throw their audience into one of the most mundane and uneventful scenarios imaginable. Two inept bodyguards wait backstage for a washed-out rock star on his final tour, ‘Forever and Ever’.
Demis Roussos is past his sell-by date; in fact he was barely even famous, much as it pains Jack (Jack Chedburn), his faithful bodyguard and obsessive admirer. Pacing back and forth, fiddling with his walkie-talkie and nervously pulling on his trousers, Chedburn infuses Jack with mild traits of OCD that do well to fuel the trivial conversations he has with his colleague, Sam. Sam is similarly played brilliantly by an effortlessly lethargic Laura Hanna, she merely nods along to Jack’s neurotic rants, more concerned with her crossword puzzles. The scenes between the two are impressively engrossing. Neither looks at the other, they only speak at one another and when they do come into physical contact (while Jack is trying to revive one of Roussos’ hits backstage) the chemistry is suddenly awkward, as if they barely know each other. Much of the humour comes through in their continuous petty discussions, which range from ball-point pens to the reasons why dogs pant to what eagles eat (Is it rabbit or rabbits? Do you pluralise?). Reminiscing about Roussos’ one-hit wonder and incidents with Dame Shirley Bassey expose the meaningless of celebrity, treated with such indifference as it is by these two numb characters.
These cringing scenes would lose their edge if they weren’t contrasted with something different, and this comes stumbling in (literally) in the form of Will Cudmore, convincingly doubling as both Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett – yes, two of the previous century’s heavy-weight authors who are in fact dead. Sam and Jack are confronted backstage by these two characters (first by the befuddled Kafka and then the more intense and aggressive Beckett) and one assumes that surely their humdrum existence should somehow be altered by such supernatural events. On the contrary, the circumstances are merely treated as chance events (Jack does not even know who either author is by name) and so we enter the realm of the obscure. However, Roussos! does not alienate so much as it draws in its audience. Its seemingly unexciting, but realistic opening scenario is followed by something so extraordinary that they buy into it. There seem to be parallels (between the waiting of Jack and Sam for Roussos, and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot) but the action moves so quickly that these could just as well be coincidences – futile attempts of the audience to figure out the play’s meaning. It is competently acted and unmistakably original, and problems would only arise from an audience that refuses to succumb to the play’s juxtaposition between the tedious and the wacky. Fans of Spinal Tap will be easily entertained, but be prepared to feel amused and confused.
Roussos! runs in the BT late slot (9:30) until Saturday, 27th October.