Whilst thousands of my fellow theatre-going folk are lapping up the atmosphere of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I am unfortunately stuck in London missing out on the action. I did however have the chance to grab a Fringe preview performance of Michael Starr’s The Curse of Miss Fortune by the Hen and Chicken’s resident company Unrestricted View. The show is billed as a quirky combination between “70s British satire, classic 50s film noir and 80s B-movie magic”. If you are thinking that seems like rather a lot of genre conventions to cram into one play, I’m afraid to say you are right. Although the play had the aesthetics of film noir, it is hard to pick out exactly what influences were taken from the other genres mentioned.
The brief and somewhat incomplete plot tells of a young couple, drowning in debt after he has lost his job and she has spent their every penny. The couple are left to contend with begging the sex-crazed boss for a second chance and hiding under tables from a furious landlord desperate for his rent. After finding a mysterious painting depicting a strange lady holding a pig, the couple meet the sassy Miss Fortune. She gives the couple a magical piggy bank, which fills up with money whenever someone throws an insult at someone else and they believe that all their prayers have been answered. The audience is invited into the proceedings by voting on where their allegiances lie, with the young couple, or with the sleazy boss and thuggish landlord. This vote at first appeared to be an interesting way of allowing the audience to actually determine the ending of the play, but rather disappointingly this was a farce and the play ended in a no-win situation anyway.
Filled with familiar stereotypes and ridiculous, over-the-top characterisation, it was difficult to sympathise with any of the characters on stage, leaving a bit of an anti-climax towards the end. The play lacked any substance making it very difficult for the audience to care about events that unfolded. Saying that, however, I don’t believe it was the intention of this cast to portray any realism in their roles; instead they went for cartoon melodrama, which fitted well with the self-referential script. Littered with references to stage make-up, cheap props and what was going on backstage, this performance does not merely break the fourth wall, it completely obliterates it. Had these jokes been made sparingly they could have worked quite well, but writer Michael Starr was perhaps a little heavy on the repetition and the running joke for my taste.
It is worth noting that the actors continued their performance without batting an eyelid through some very disruptive feedback from the sound desk that made it difficult to concentrate for the last twenty minutes of the performance. It is a shame that smaller theatre venues often struggle with temperamental technical equipment. The actors also followed through with some precise mime work leading to some amusing jokes about doorbells and opening doors that clearly weren’t there for us to see.
If you can see past the flawed American accents, and enjoy a bit of comedy violence, cheap gags and hammy characters then this could be an evening of entertainment right up your street. Good luck to the company on its trip to the Fringe.