The bloke next to me’s not clapping. I mean, nobody’s really clapping, but he’s not even trying. Instead he’s making a thick snorting sound as he drags a wodge of mucus from his nasal passages and into his mouth. As the audience file out, dropping two or three copper pennies into the hopeful plastic cup Ellis and Rose have left out for donations, he tops it up with this contemptuous loogie. And apparently he’s one of their mates. As someone once said on Alan Partridge, ‘no manners, but what a critic’.
There’s no good reason to see Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show. It’s not clever, and with four or five minutes of material barely stretched out over twenty, it’s certainly not big. The title harks back to the hoary old tradition of controversial satires, a tradition of cheap headline chasing that’s less common than it used to be. But this isn’t a quick cash-grab show thrown together in the ‘spirit of the Fringe’; it isn’t actually a show at all. It’s essentially an apology, a time-waster that wastes your time by repeatedly apologising for wasting your time. It may be the very worst thing that has ever appeared at the Fringe, and whether that makes it unendurable or unmissable is up to you.
Ellis has dressed up in a red onesie and clutches a fake cigar. Rose lies on the floor and lets out occasional whimpers of complaint. There are two caricatures of Savile velcroed to the back wall. There are a few cardboard cut-outs of Louis Theroux and the DG of the BBC. Ellis and Rose stumble about the stage and stagger through a few loose confrontations between Savile and these persecutors. Presumably someone intended this to act as a comment on the nation’s complicity with Auntie’s favourite sex offender, but it can’t have been Ellis and Rose. Their grasp of the issues, or even Savile himself, is Wikipedia-thin. It’s almost as if the two tossers on stage owe someone money, and this show is a particularly cruel and poetic act of vengeance meted out on their careers.
They’ve managed to drum up some publicity by having Rose smack Ellis in the face five times, which they then reported as an outraged attack. It’s the most tragic bit of provocation since the Circus of Horrors superglued their dwarf performer’s dick to a vacuum cleaner back in 2007. But it can’t sting as much as the fact that their show is upstaged on two separate occasions by a wood pigeon cooing outside the window.
In a way Ellis and Rose are carrying out a public service. Quite apart from slinging together a talking point and critical punching bag, they’ve also defined the low water-mark of this year’s Fringe. Every scale needs a zero. Every pit, however seemingly fathomless, must have its bottom. And here it is. The arse-end of the world, every night, in Bob’s Bookshop.