Theatre Review: The Fabulous Bacon Boys @ The Tobacco Factory Bar
by Polly Hember
Last night the Tobacco Factory bar saw straw, wood, bricks, huffing, puffing and a tremendous amount of laughter as Living Spit, the Bristol-based comedy theatre company, took on the classic nursery tale The Three Little Pigs. Told only in rhyming verse and armed with just a double bass, a ukulele, and a handful of props, the two actors Howard Coggins and Stu McLoughlin engineered a truly enjoyable show full of playful puns and deep belly laughs.
The two actors looked like polar opposites on the tiny stage set up in the corner of the Tobacco Factory Bar; McLoughlin is tall and gloriously gangly whilst Coggins is short and stout. Their dynamic chemistry and impeccable comic timing allowed them to embark on a farcical evening of silliness and pig related puns. Directed by Craig Edwards, the simple story of the three big brothers and their houses of straw, wood and brick and the torment of the Big Bad Wolf was tapered and torn apart. It featured the family construction business The Bacon Boys who specialise in unorthodox building equipment and their tedious interactions with housing surveyor Miss Wanda Wolf. Throw in a backstory about a wealthy crime lord (W.W.Wolf) and an oil well, coupled with a great sense of humour, fantastic ear for rhythm and verse, some ludic lines and voila! – you have The Fabulous Bacon Boys.
The two-man cast played an array of characters – with Coggins playing all three brothers – amusingly named Kevin, Chris P and Francis Bacon – switching hats with their names on to differentiate, drawing attention to the slightly budget feel as he facilitated conversations and action scenes involving all three brothers. McLoughlin’s fluffy Russian ushanka hat and horn-rimmed spectacles, coupled with his mock-pantomime performance of the old wolfish lady made for a number of rambunctious laughs from the audience, particularly in the seduction scene between Francis and the now sultry Miss Wolf – playing off the tradition of pantomime gender-bending fun and games. The actors kept mentioning the silliness of the two-man act, laughing at themselves as they switched in and out character, which was the base for much of the play’s charm (of which there was plenty to go around).
The script was wordy and well thought through; the rhymes and upbeat ukulele songs brought a fast-paced and fun gaiety to the play. Silly and senseless, the actors sometimes pointed to the rhymes as amused points of exasperation, and other times they let the audience guess the ending to the rhyming couplets, which led for cheery audience participation and sing-alongs. The clever script broke the forth wall at multiple points, which was when the writing was at it’s very best – one of our favourite moments was when McLoughlin cried: “Hold me!”, clutching onto a bemused Coggins, who replied, “I don’t think that’s appropriate, we don’t have time…”, to which McLoughlin turned to the audience to apologetically explain: “I know, I just said it to facilitate the rhyme!”
With such a wordy script, fast paced and full of couplets, and the entire play hinging on their dynamic story-telling, the actors did stumble over their lines a little. A seamless rhyming stream and a few more rehearsals would have been ideal, but these minor slip-ups did not dampen the hilarity of the piece; they humorously incorporated and played up to this with the fourth-wall-breaking, in-and-out-of-character nature of the piece. They cleverly simulated the sense that the play was clumsily out of their hands, whilst their engaging performances had the audience eating out of their palms.
The ludic and ludicrous script alongside brilliant and lively performances from two hilarious actors with great comic timing and self-depreciating humour made for a fantastic evening of light-hearted laughter. Make sure you keep an eye on Living Spit so you don’t miss their next performance, not by the hair of your chinny chin chin!
Image Credits: Photo by Paul Groom and design by John Croe.