Comeback Special by Greg Wohead
22nd – 26th March 2016
Shoreditch Town Hall
Review by Richard Lambert 24/3/16
Written and Performed by Greg Wohead
Produced by Laura Sweeney
Scene and Lighting design Ben Pacey
Sound design and Music Arrangement Timothy X Atack
Entering the venue there are 4 flown projection screens made of gauze scrim material. There are 4 sides to the covered steel deck stage in the centre of the space, 4 sets of seating rows, 4 projectors, 4 projector shutters, 4 sets of up-lighting Howie battens around the edge of the stage. And a single microphone hanging by its cable above head height over the centre of the stage.
It feels like a Boxing Ring. Everywhere you look there are audience faces returning your look. Greg Wohead is centre stage with nowhere to go to reduce his exposure to the audience and our stares. It’s slightly uncomfortable. His opening pre-amble invites us to participate and smile. He doesn’t beg please but perhaps he should – Press Nights invite a tough crowd!
The seating arrangement does not allow anyone to leave theatre for a comfort break without causing considerable disruption. I’m sure this will be a problem at some point! A substantial part of the show has Greg sat on a chair in front of his mike on a stand. This gives a rear view of him to a section of the audience which could not have been welcomed by that section.
Greg remains confident, polished, self-assured of his own material. He narrates a lot of descriptive text about what he sees in the audience – but we know it’s untrue. It’s almost NLP in nature but like hypnosis appears to resonate with some and bore others.
Like a true professional he makes a lot out of nothing, but again I find it difficult to go on the journey he’s describing – I don’t care enough that he’s watched the ’68 Comeback Special hundreds and hundreds of times and noticed a piece of lint being removed from Elvis Presley’s face by a friend and co-star during the ’68 Comeback Special. This insignificant event being magnified and repeated over and over and over again as a Sound Loop for what feels like 30 minutes while Greg whispers stage directions to some of the audience to get them to synchronise some simple movements to simulate what happened in the TV Studio when the ’68 Comeback Special was recorded. It goes on interminably, adding one movement at a time until eventually the entire choreography has been taught to some of the audience for the grand finale of this moment – we participate and then wonder why was such a huge chunk of show time taken up with doing this? Yes, I’ll now never forget that a small piece of lint was removed from Elvis’ face but to be honest – I don’t care, I don’t see the point. I just didn’t get it!
The subsequent narrated rationale would seem to be that this was an intimate action by Elvis’ male friend. Elvis appears very comfortable with his friend’s actions. We’re left to surmise? What exactly? Elvis is comfortable with the touch of a male? Again, I’m bewildered and wonder “so what”?
The Projection at times provided some nice texturing to the space. The video show-reels were a welcome break but far too infrequent. Greg’s sing-a-long-a-Elvis was welcomed and accomplished.
The Sound was sometimes intrusive and, like the evening, occasionally over-done, but for the most part well designed and supportive of Greg’s material.
Ben Pacey’s lighting was fabulous! It created the most variety of the evening with plenty of different looks. From Fresnels to tight zones of light, extensive overhead rig to couple of floor boom perches, plenty to marvel at! My favourite aspect was the reflection from the shiny floor bouncing the light up to the ceiling and walls and how this opened up the space.
I notice a distinct lack of “Costume Credit” in the programme and perhaps this goes some way to explaining why Greg wore a loose T shirt, baggy jeans and unremarkable shoes. Creating a shabby self-deprecating look was not in keeping with the confident performance given by Greg. I’d have liked to see him wear something different, and by different, yes, I mean something better.
It did not feel like a cheap production. Technically the elements were all there in abundance. I just don’t know that the material required such an extensive treatment. The highlight of the show was the singing with Elvis and I would have welcomed a lot more of this. His finale free-form dance was just weird. Very Monty Python – like some sort of kung fu, with inelegant leaps, and no technique or bodyline acknowledgement whatsoever. Was Greg taking the proverbial out of the audience or what was this? Perhaps I need to see the original ’68 Comeback Special to understand how or why this was in any way relevant.
Technically the show was brilliant. The Production Team did their best. Artistically it didn’t work for me.
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