The Camden People’s Theatre never ceases to amaze me with the sheer range of productions they put on. The bizarre and avant-garde can often be found here, and Paid Fantasist is no exception. In what might be the most bizarre concept for a piece of theatre ever, Paid Fantasist is inspired by an article written on Tom Baker for The Sunday Times in 1978. To be fair to Biscuit & Field, the company and cast comprising of Rebecca Biscuit and Nathan Field, it’s a pretty great article. In it, Baker chronicles his rather strange but also slightly predictable day in his rock star life as a 70’s celebrity/icon. He drinks, complains, takes drugs, contemplates suicide and thinks about tall, thin women often. This article serves as a sort of springboard for Biscuit & Field to create, what I can only describe, as a smorgasbord of a show; nonsensical, bizarre, and with a slight whiff of pretension.
They open by reading the article in unison. Field struggles to get lines out on time and accurately, which disturbs the pace. They then follow the format of Tom’s article, and tell us of a day in their life. Field’s is respectably average and occasionally amusing. Biscuit’s is not what I would call an ‘average day’ in anyone’s life, and attempts to be shocking and hilarious, but doesn’t always manage it.
The duo takes the hour for which Paid Fantasist runs mostly as an opportunity to demonstrate just how well they know Soho, how much they love Soho, and how people like them, misfits and artists, belong in Soho. It becomes a bit tiresome, how often they try to prove their love and knowledge of the place. They complain about the gentrification of Soho, ironically, as they fit the stereotypical profile of those who enable it – moving to London from Bury St Edmunds and littering their desk with itsu and Pret wrappers. If their ‘complaining and then doing what they’re complaining about’ thing is an elaborate, ironic joke, then I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch on.
The oddball humour is enjoyable here and there, and there are a few great gags that are brilliantly weird, but a good portion of it falls flat, particularly a sequence announced as ‘Trickle Down.’ In this segment, Field takes mouthfuls from a champagne glass and spits them into Biscuit’s mouth. This is then repeated five or six times, and Biscuit drinks the contents of the glass. If I weren’t trying to stop myself heaving, I would’ve been having an extremely serious chat with myself, questioning how I got to the point in my life where I am watching people exchange fluids this way on a Thursday night.
Paid Fantasist may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also packed full of Tom Baker/Doctor Who references, which may be lost on those who know little of either. What must be praised, however, is the highly original concept. I think we can safely say that nothing like it has been produced before. While amusing in places, Paid Fantasist is an extremely niche piece that needs a little fine-tuning.
Paid Fantasist played at The King’s Head Theatre until December 1. For more information, click here.