Never Try This At Home

For a 21 year old, they can be very silly. Told By An Idiot are celebrating their 21st year with a show that even by their standards goes way past current norms of political correctness.

Founded in 1993 by Paul Hunter and Hayley Carmichael, the TBAI style has always encompassed a certain anarchy anchored to the then fashionable Jacques Lecoq school of mime and physical theatre. With TBAI, though, you often feel more than a slight sense of gentle disorientation, nowhere more so than in their last London offering, My Perfect Mind, in which Edward Petherbridge and Paul Hunter engaged in a fantastical, often profound, often whimsical exploration of King Lear and Petherbridge’s remarkable return after the stroke that halted his plans to perform Lear.

This time, Never Try This At Home throws the kitchen sink – or, rather, a basinful of custard-pies – at the industry that is, or used to be, Saturday morning children’s television. This is slapstick comedy taken to a higher dimension. Barely a scene goes by without someone from the hard-working cast of five getting it in the kisser. Only Niall Ashdown’s creepy presenter, Niall, manages to stay aloof from the mayhem until the final pie-splattering free-for-all.

It’s fast, furious, full of appalling puns and innuendo (responsibility shared between Kneehigh’s Carl Grose, a TBAI regular contributor working alongside the company) and spun around a fictional `reunion’ show – Looking Back (together) – the last word accompanied by a collective, audience participatory shout and hands clasped together.

But underneath and before our very eyes as we return to the splendours of the children’s show that was SHUSHI (standing idiotically for `say hello UP, say hello’, the catch-phrase that becomes the show’s mantra) – darker forces are at work. Abuse, violence, bullying. That’s how it was, then, women dutifully submissive, stereotypes to the fore and all carried off with smiling joviality and false bonhomie.

Makes you cringe now, even as Niall, tracking down `the producer’, Ged Simmons to an orphanage he runs in India captures a Jimmy Savile moment in all its supercilious, dishonest glory. A madcap homage/send-up maybe. But my, so cautionary, too.