The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd; a compendium of theatrical curiosity.

Note: This is not a review, I didn’t see enough of it to be a review – if you did see enough to disagree with me please let me know.

I was reminded of the wonderfully weird world I work in last week when I went to see The Roar Of The Greasepaint – The Smell Of The Crowd.  With clown urchins, the battle of a tramp and a gentleman crook and some kind of dream fairy, 1960s musical giants Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley went existential. We watch with increasingly shuffling confusion as a strange game of life is played between master (Sir) and servant (Cocky), with arbitrary rules weighted against the poorer of the two men.

Some of my colleagues have inferred that this tortured process is a comment on class (and Wikipedia certainly seems to think so). But this whirligig production of cackling choral clowns, apocalyptic circus environments, Victorian blonde visions and ‘Negro’ saviours is so bizarre any such comment surely gets lost in an out of control music hall analogy.  As we see one man constantly testing and beating another, the question does not seem to be one of social power but ‘if Samuel Beckett were to knock off a musical version of Waiting For Godot what would it be like?’ And what a frankly incomprehensible answer Bricusse and Newley have come up with. Because whilst this hallucinogenic whirlwind may have worked in the psychedelic 1960s today I can’t get away from the fact that in its outlandish absurdity this musical has become a true theatrical oddity. Just what led the estimable Ian Judge to produce it?

But why has The Roar Of The Grease Paint – The Smell Of The Crowd slipped into the sphere of the puzzingly freakish for me and not just been relegated to the slowly growing ‘so bad it’s, well just really bad’ pile? What goes into making a theatrical curiosity?

Here at least it seems to be that whilst all the ingredients in the pot are right, with Bricusse and Newley, Judge and designer Tim Goodchild all being names that are synonymous with quality musical theatre, the result was just wrong. It’s not bad because the songs aren’t bad, and the performances aren’t bad and yet the story doesn’t make sense, the choices are too outlandish: the arrow has well and truly missed.

But I don’t hold this show or it’s makers in contempt, instead I’ve felt energised by its strangeness, oddly inspired by its inherent failure. Have any shows ever done that to you? What would you call a theatrical oddity and why? A compendium of these experiences seems to call out to be documented, something with metaphorical jars that is suitably Hunterian, and yes I realise there’s something fittingly odd about that whole idea in itself…