What is the plural of euphonium? I never imagined I’d need to know, but Little Bulb Theatre’s show Extravaganza Macabre, which inaugurates Battersea Arts Centre’s new Courtyard Theatre, begins with three of said instruments, each played by one of the trio who devised and perform this piece. They don’t play them particularly well, but I am reliably informed that most actors don’t play the euphonium at all, so one must take that into account.
They also don’t play the piano particularly well, which is more of an issue since one or other of them is playing it almost constantly throughout the show, making me wonder why they chose to include a piano when none of them can actually, you know, play it. Of course, a lot of the charm of a show like this is its low-tech, make-do-and-mend approach – swords obviously stuck under arms to show someone’s been stabbed, and so forth – but after almost two hours of vague noodling in D minor, one does begin to wonder what it adds to the proceedings.
The story is a ragbag of Dickens, pantomime and Tommy Steele – lovers parted on their wedding day, long lost children identified by a distinctive birthmark, a cheeky cockney urchin who appears at the right moment to help the hero… and a dog. The atmosphere is high camp Footlights japery, and though I like a bit of audience participation and fourth wall jokes – “Ominous music, that’s not good” – as much as the next man, it feels rather thin material to stretch so long.
Still, no one can say they don’t make full use of the venue’s possibilities – from the roof above the audience to the trapdoors in the stage, everything’s brought into play. Acting honours go to Clare Beresford, who is also the only one of the three who can really sing. Honesty demands I report that most of the audience seemed to be enjoying this more than I was, even allowing for the precaution of packing press nights with friends and family. But it’s a shame that the best joke of the night was during the housekeeping announcement – when someone pointed out that he’d forgotten to tell us about the fire exits, he fired back “Don’t worry, these places never catch fire.”