Tacky costumes, trashy visuals, Terry Wogan, and pop songs that you hate yourself for loving. Yes, the Eurovision song contest has set upon us again both in real life next month (May 20/22/24 in Belgrade) but on the touring stage before settling in the West End this September. That’s right, some clever Australians took that most beloved (and belittled) of European institutions to give us Eurobeat Almost Eurovision.
The current UK touring version, set in Sarajevo, features everything the real Eurovision is known for: low end local celebrities making awful jokes (this time with lots of double entendre) and stereotyped nationalities attempting to out-flare and out-pop each other. From the holdouts (Hungarian folk heavy) to the sellouts (the Brits provided the worst and blandest song as always) and the fallouts (Postmodern Germans and a Björk-esque Icelander), our hosts (Les Dennis as children’s TV star Sergei and Mel Giedroyc as ex-pole vaulter Boyka) take us across this lovely continent full of “beautiful people, except France” and insure that none of the represented nations reach the end unscathed, but it rarely goes past the “nudge/wink” type humour that lets us all be in on the joke, although some jokes (“Leave it to the Irish to teach us about World Peace”) hit closer to home than others.
And just how are these mockeries of cultural pride and punishment? Some of them (Greece, Italy, Ireland, Russia) are surprisingly catchy and worthy of being on many an iPod and go beyond their novelty setting. Others exist for the sake of being intentionally bad and perhaps lack tunefulness as a result, but still work in the context of the show. Had the RZ a spare tenner on the night he went, he would have bought the CD without blinking on his way out of the theatre.
Of course, it’s not Eurovision without a winner, and the end of the first act provides the audience the opportunity to vote via text message. Needless to say, the second act lacks the pure entertainment value of the first as a great deal of time is dedicated to reporting the results, but the voting is accurate and the winner does change on a nightly basis (it’s even reported the next day on the website).
The one downside to this production is the continuing trend to eliminate live music. On the other hand, the Eurovision contest itself has been free of a live orchestra for years, and touring prices reflect the lower expenses. Whether live music will be implemented for the West End is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: it’s hard to care when you’re laughing so hard.
When: Check the show website.
How Much: Varies by venue, £9-£25 in most venues
Concessions: Varies by venue
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £20. £5 penalty for no live band. This show is damn funny and if you can see it at touring prices you’ll totally get your money’s worth (plus it clocks in just at 2 hrs. - someone gets to keep it short!)
RZ Other Notes: The theatre was frighteningly empty the night the RZ went, with over half the stalls and most of the first circle empty and the upper circle closed. While word of mouth is certain to build as the tour reaches its conclusion, the high camp factor (bordering on postmodern mockery at times) may have trouble attracting the wider audiences necessary to sustain an extended run in one of the West End’s major venues - then again, if Gone With The Wind closes as soon as everybody hopes, the New London would be a wonderful and not too large location with plenty of intimacy (though most of the touring venues are owned by the Ambassadors, so speculate for yourself where this'll end up). Either way, Eurobeat’s producers aren’t hedging their bets in the UK: productions in Asia, Australia, and Europe are in the works for the rest of 2008 and 2009, including an alternative version set in Amsterdam for some locations.