Review: Nigel Charnock in Stupid Men at The Place

Performance: 6 & 7 Oct 08
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 7 October 2008

It would be all too easy to take offence at elements of this improvised mayhem by Charnock and his little band of self-confessed ‘stupid men’ (Adrian Howells, Mike Winter and Itay Yatuv); as acknowledged by an ending in which all four guys apologise profusely for all the “isms” they have perpetrated during the hour. The early part of the performance deliberately sets out to shock – and is certainly excruciating in parts – but more often than not, it descends into comparatively tame playground games.

The four men are most convincing as an anarchic, gay, gang mixing The Young Ones, Monty Python and the boys in Skins(albeit a couple of decades later). So, Howells is the fat man, initially bullied and regularly insulted by the aggressive one (Winter), but later snogged voraciously by him to a slow number on the dance floor. Israeli dancer, Yatuv, is regularly taunted with ‘Jew boy’ early on, the shock of this quickly fading through the familiarity of repetition. Charnock is always the ‘ring master’, the man who sets the sequence to come, either verbally or through his control of the music. He’s also the source of most of the humour and the funniest moment comes mid-way through the piece when he picks up a programme and is surprised to see that they have to do it all again on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This leads on to Charnock’s prediction that no-one will be in Wednesday since “the reviews will be out”, thus triggering his usual fearsome attack on dance critics – who are all “*unts” (there’s more profanity here than at a Joe Kinnear press conference). Charnock runs through some ballet centre work whilst composing – eloquently – his own bad notice. He invites the critics to note it down and berates us for writing about meaningless dance before plaintively appealing for some theatre critics in future. It is, I’m sorry to say, one of the best sequences of the show.

At the extreme end of their grossness, we had the juvenile innocence of spitting and licking sweaty armpits escalating to Howells’ invitation to use his man-boobs for a “tit-wank” and then a ritual licking of testicles. But in the spirit of open improvisation don’t expect to see any of this tomorrow. I suppose in the great scheme of what is possible, it was still quite tame. The performers spoke about the fat man eating a baby in the audience (seemingly a parody of the fat bastard in the Austin Powers films) but, of course, he didn’t actually go near the poor infant and no-one urinated or masturbated on the stage but who knows what might happen tomorrow.

I count myself lucky to have escaped the evening without having been molested on one of the dancers’ frequent forays into the audience, either by climbing or falling over people, flicking their bodily fluids at us or running off with random coats and even – on one occasion – someone’s ring.

Although this will stretch beyond the comfort zones of many, their improvisation contained moments of laugh-out-loud humour, incredible physical exertion (notably by Winter, who managed to pop out 30 sit-ups in the midst of his exhausting routine) and a regular drip-feed of needle-sharp social comment.

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