Blast From The Past ~ Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Camden Fringe

Star Rating: *****

“I can’t even have a w*nk in peace” sets the tone for a piece which cunningly and cleverly deceives you into believing you are watching a comedy akin to Benidorm/Shameless/Trollied. However, there’s a serious undertone to Blast From The Past, and when it unfolds, it makes for one of the most beautiful moments in a piece of theatre that I have witnessed, in a very long time.

Centred around the Tate family and their bizarre social circle, we were taken on a journey between Blackpool and London in 1999. At the heart of the story is the very real event which took place on 30 April 1999, the Nail bombing at the Admiral Duncan Pub in Soho. The fictional Tates consist of Julie, a foul-mouthed, often foul-tempered, brassy tart, and her three kids, Danny (he’s been electronically tagged and appeared on Kilroy), Nathan (hair dresser by day, drag artiste by night, who does a mean impersonation of Cher) and Kelly-Lou, unseen throughout the majority of the play, who is always crying and has a penchant for dolly mixtures! The journey is not without ups, down, twists, turns and rivals any rollercoaster ride. Along for the ride are Mark Harrington (Danny’s old friend from school), Lola (owner of a swingers hotel), Nicole (friend of the Tate family who is always complete with lollipop!) and Caz who runs the Out and Proud magazine.

Richard Rhodes as Nathan/Phoenix Rose – Cher extraordinaire!

What strikes me about this production is that not only some of the wittiest exchanges I’ve seen since the last series of Benidorm, but there is a good balance of heart, intelligence and grit. It has all the right elements to make it a comedy drama de force and I find it fascinating that the audience are left to make up their own minds on some matters. Not only did that leave me wanting more, but I rather enjoy being left to ponder. The set is a hot-bed of nostalgia and every detail is meaningful and poignant, the piece itself is reflected in the set, props and costumes.

It’s been cast exceedingly well, Andrew Irvine gives a sharp performance as Mark, I enjoyed his reactions to his 21 year old, air-headed fiancee, Melanie (played hilariously by Felicity Dean, she pulled it off well). I was moved by the chemistry that he demonstrated with both Danny and ultimately, Nathan. There is an important shift in Mark’s relationship with Nathan, and it was subtle yet blindingly obvious, simultaneously, and that’s an art in itself. Dean also has the opportunity to showcase herself in two other roles, Lola, which she plays with slurring naughtiness and Caz, a character who comes across as a quiet, thoughtful reflector.

Andrew Irvine as Mark, Richard Rhodes as Nathan and Felicity Dean as Caz.

Anthony Kavanagh has made a brilliant and remarkable transition from singer to actor. As Danny, he is bawdy with plenty of bad attitude, but a heart of gold buried many fathoms below. The various aspects of the character are all played to superb effect and I’d love to see Kavanagh tread the boards again in the future. There is so much that he can bring to a role, I felt his performance was spot on. Likewise, Richard Rhodes as Nathan/Phoenix Rose, is a revelation, his comic timing is incredible, his Cher impersonation will be imprinted on my memory forever. My over-riding feeling is that he is an important discovery, multi-talented and boundless capabilities. It was a pleasure and a privilege to watch him. Judy Buxton reprises her role as Julie Tate, she was in receipt of the vast majority of laughs, she is awe-inspiring in all four of the roles that she plays and her versatility is, in my humble opinion, second to none. Buxton is obviously comfortable with the role of Julie, yet she has still upped her performance ten-fold since the last time she took on the part (and she was amazing the first time around!). As Mystical Maureen, she demonstrates another dimension to her character acting ability, the same can be said when she ‘becomes’ Beverley Scanton (Danny and Mark’s old school teacher). I particularly roared with laughter when she portrayed cleaning lady, Mrs Grimshaw, with an ‘innocent’ twinkle in her eye when she used the term “blow job” instead of “blow dry”.

JudyJudy 2016

Judy Buxton plays both Julie Tate and Mrs Grimshaw.

Anna-Lisa Maree, who plays Kelly-Lou and Nicole, is a chameleon of an actress and her ability to switch between accents is incredible. As a director it appears that she has endeavoured to get the best out of her cast and in interesting and innovative ways, too. As a writer? Move over Derren Litten! Or at least collaborate with this talented lady!

There is still time to book tickets to see this fantastic show, tonight:

Photo Credits: Simon Annand

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