If there is one show you watch this Christmas then let that show be Släpstick. Currently playing to rapturous audiences at HOME Manchester, allow me a few minutes of your time to convince you why I think this is Manchester’s hidden gem among the pantomimes, the traditional festive ballets, the big theatre musical productions and what have you and why you should go along to be regaled by some down right clever musical comedy at its finest!!!
Släpstick are a quintet of musicians from the Netherlands, who combine their musicality with more than a dash of vaudeville showmanship. Winner of the 2017 Edinburgh Spirit of the Fringe Award, the Dutch masters are billed as “an ode to the timeless comedy of Charlie Chaplin, Marx Brothers, Spike Jones and Laurel & Hardy – with a very modern twist.”
Of course, dear reader, I am old enough to remember when that movie era was still a relevance – even if my childhood was in the 1980s. Släpstick indeed has all the hallmarks that made the pre-talkies movie age be regarded with such affection. The emphasis was on the entertainers using every facet of their abilities to enthrall the viewing public. Indeed, there is no let up from the get go – as most of the performers are on stage before you’ve even taken your seat, or they are pottering about, interacting with the audience, cajoling them with a witticism of some sort, be it a funny look or a silly trickster of a tumble.
(This endeavour also carries on during the interval, so I’d suggest you cut short your drink at the bar and indulge in some playful banter with these loony troupers)
These sublime clowns obviously have much love for this style of entertaining and there’s a touching homage with a rendition of a famous old Laurel and Hardy tune, ‘Shine on Harvest Moon’ from the 1939 film ‘The Flying Deuces’, with the actual scene being shown on the canvas as two of the Dutch quintet reenact the scene in their own uniquely inimitable style.
Yet, there is much more to this than just a series of vignettes that showcase the best of Chaplin and co. Its irreverent approach to entertaining always keeps those in the aisles captivated. The loudmouth fairground con artiste that makes an appearance between the musical numbers is one of the many highlights, as is a hilarious barber shop routine that pops up throughout the show in which they cover ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’, Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’, ‘Uptown Funk’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, all in German (me thinks). It shouldn’t be so much fun to watch, but it is.
However, it is when they tone down the slapstick that they reveal the heart and soul of their performance. There’s many a touching moment when they are able to slow down the laughs and hilarity and add a hint of poignancy to proceedings. This is no better summed up when they all join forces to play Nat King Cole’s classic ‘Unforgettable’, featuring several nice comical touches that keeps us utterly engaged.
It is not often that I walk out of a theatre wanting to go to the box office and purchase tickets to the same show that I’ve watched. Yet, this is that kind of show. It leaves you with a big beaming smile on your face wanting more. 2018 may almost be at an end, but I think I may have just about watched the best show of the year!
Verdict: An exuberant slick production paying homage to the slapstick comedy of yesteryear with a modern twist. These Dutch masters will have you laughing out loud before the show has even begun, thoroughly entertaining and the stand out hit of the season.