“It smells of hairspray and farts”, snarled the man next to me in the, admittedly airless, basement of the Leicester Square Theatre. This tells you all you need to know about the audience demographic of Peter Marino’s one man show Desperately Seeking The Exit, a catty group of theatre-literate types, revelling in the familiarity and camp humour style of Marino’s performance. Indeed, Marino makes this audience connection from the outset: “For you non-theatre queens, what are you doing here?”
Desperately Seeking The Exit is Marino’s account of the absolute train-wreck which was his 2007 musical Desperately Seeking Susan, which took the 1985 film starring Rosanna Arquette and Madonna as its basis, threw in the entire Blondie back-catalogue, and limped cluelessly and lifelessly around the Novello Theatre for the grand total of one month. The show’s title comes from one of the musical’s original reviews, and the brutal honesty in which Marino describes how his musical came to flop so spectacularly is refreshing, engaging and often very funny.
It is Marino’s loving and luvvy take on London and the UK which makes the performance. From an outside perspective, London is apparently little more than a Noel Coward play, with our frequent tea breaks, nonsensical communication where “cheers” and “sorry” can mean all manner of things, and where all London men are assumed to be gay (“with all your manners and hair products and things”, he explains). Marino is not an Anglophile, but rather an ‘Angloholic’ (which is one step up, we are led to presume), and this may explain the frantic energy in which he stomps about the small performance space, stopping occasionally for a swig of Magners, or ‘Fagners’ as it is known stateside, or for a prompt from Jude, the seemingly quite unhelpful Technical Stage Manager – perhaps more could be made of the relationship between the two. Marino’s withering looks and wide-eyed frustration are highly entertaining, but Marino provides a performance more nuanced than perhaps he realises: his description of his crippling depression following the show’s bombing is touching and presented with a poetic verve, which allows for a very satisfying crescendo when we as an audience learn that Desperately Seeking Susan was a huge success in Tokyo a while later.
Without the benefit of preview performances, it was perhaps inevitable that some elements felt a little flat; a pit-stop halfway through in which we were asked to fill out a survey on what we thought of the show so far was a little unnecessary and puzzling, especially bearing in mind that those of us in the back two rows weren’t consulted, and so simply had to sit there twiddling our thumbs for the duration. Whilst most observations on US/UK similarities and differences were sweet, others felt a little over-laboured – a skit on strawberry icecream could perhaps have been cut.
Yet, the intimate audience were more than prepared to overlook these small hiccups. Marino is a thoroughly absorbing character, and he is an Angloholic don’t forget. And that deserves a resounding ‘cheers’.
Desperately Seeking The Exit is playing at the Leicester Square Theatre until 20 May. For more information and tickets, see the Leicester Square Theatre website.