Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 7 December 2014

Mrs Hudson’s Christmas Corker

Wilton's Music Hall ⋄ until 31st December 3014

A bitter aftertaste.

Stewart Pringle

Two years ago, just in time for Christmas, Barry and Bob Cryer (national treasure and son of national treasure respectively) released a slim stocking-sized book titled Mrs Hudson’s Diaries: A View From the Landing at 221b. Providing more or less exactly what it said on the tin, it distinguished itself from similar efforts through the frothy charm of its comedy and some surprising depths afforded to the titular house-keeper. Just as Watson’s canonical recordings provide a slyly persuasive version of the Great Detective’s adventures, Mrs. Hudson provides a wittily observed counter-narrative, as well as filling in her own backstory, long confined to the margins of Conan Doyle’s fiction.

That book has been panel-beaten into a peculiar shape for this Wilton’s Christmas show. Traces of wit and humour remain, and there are occasional proofs of the Cryer dynasty’s impressive comic abilities, but this is a show which confuses cruelty for ribaldry and leaves a confused and often bitter aftertaste.

It could be the two nasty little rape jokes snuck into the first five minutes of each act, it could be the Jack the Ripper sing-a-long or the swings at the Elephant Man, or it could even be the use of the terms ‘knob jockey’ and (unbelievably) ‘spacktard’ that take the festive shine off things, but there’s certainly something amiss. Spymonkey Theatre, producers and authorial collaborators here, have built a reputation on flying in the face of political correctness, but here, and particularly in the first half, the laughs feel heavily predicated on a bullying, frat-boy tone. Christmas is hardly a time for weighty messages, but the pervading one here seems to be something along the lines of Fuck the Meek. Ho ho ho!

It’s particularly sad, because the ingredients here seem properly corking. A handful of Holmes’ most notorious cases are given a tickle with the parody stick, Toby Park has a hint of Cumberbatch in his looks and more than a little Jeremy Brett in his performance, there’s a live band pumping out some catchy tunes and Lucy Bradrige’s design is a total festive wonder, with a huge illuminated wreath looming over the stage. Spymonkey are bulging with talent, too, and moments of chaotic physical comedy are brilliantly handled, particularly by company co-founder Petra Massey.

There’s a perceptible tension between the tones of the Cryers and that of Spymonkey, and though personal taste will dictate which approach you gravitate to, it’s certainly true that things become far more consistent in the second half, where we veer from 221B Baker Street and find ourselves in a bawdily irreverent nativity. Its connection to Sherlock & co. is micron-thin – it could come from any late-night Christmas show the city over, but it’s actually very funny and finds more robust targets than the poor, needy and injured who are the consistent butts of the early material.

It’s hard to leave Wilton’s, however, without wondering what might have been if Barry and Bob had realised their lovely book more directly. There’s none of the intelligence and subtlety that characterised it, or that has made the elder Cryer one of this country’s most adored comic writers. The best Christmas entertainment warms you like good mulled wine, or spreads a bit of magic over your evening. Despite it’s reliably enchanting setting, there’s little chance of that in this unnecessarily thoughtless and braying show.

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Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Mrs Hudson’s Christmas Corker Show Info


Written by Bob & Barry Cryer in association with Spymonkey

Link http://wiltons.org.uk/

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