Saturday, 14 February 2015

Skin Deep - Pickering Productions (14 February 2015)

With over 500 shows Fringe is always going to prove to be a little hit and miss. You’ll see some fabulous performances and every now and then there’ll be a dud or two. I’ve seen quite a few wonderful ones this festival which means I’m pretty much batting ahead of the curve. I don’t state it lightly then that for sheer entertainment value Skin Deep is my favourite show to date. What a fantastically crazy and hilarious mash-up of mashed up pop songs and insight into the quest for beauty through the ages!

When the answer to “what price beauty?” comes in the form of botox, arsenic, insect larvae, nightshade and other remedies you know you’re in for a helluva ride. Throw in some creative interpretations of a variety of pop songs (I’ll never hear The Eagles' Take It Easy the same way ever again) with a few, um, judicious tweaks here and there to the lyrics and it’s a rollicking night’s entertainment. I’m known for having a big laugh but the lady next to me was literally having kittens. Yes, literally! In fact the whole audience loved this with a standing ovation at the Hellenic Club after a suitable finale with a Carole King classic.

The set-up is that three generations of beauty therapists (all the most important jobs end in ‘ist’) reveal the secrets of the trade with several ‘exhibits’, Law and Order style. They range from invasive beauty procedures to client confessions to mother-daughter wrangling over the school ball with a little murder thrown in for good measure. The performers in question are Lindsay McNab, Cynthia Fenton (also co-writer), and Grace Edwards with the seemingly ever present Timothy How on keyboards.

They work tremendously well together with each getting a moment to shine. A sense of what we were in for arrives early when the three women excel during ‘Exhibit A’ that involves plenty of sight gags as ‘Lins’ undergoes a certain delicate beauty treatment. Other highlights included:

Fenton gives a whole new meaning to the song Defying Gravity which was as inspired as anything you’ll see at Fringe this year and had me laughing from How’s opening bars.

Edwards, hard on the heels of The Dummies Guide to Opera, gives another vivacious performance with standouts including her turn as a put upon 17 year old railing against her domineering mother (Fenton); and who could go past that classic piece of shtick I’ve Never Been To Me for comic potential?

McNab had a beautiful ballad as the mood surprisingly turned a little sombre towards the end. It was an interesting counterpoint and I liked that they took their time here. Additionally, her opening refrain from Bohemian Rhapsody was a prime example of taking the lyrics from a famous song and twisting the context for maximum comedic effect. Which is exactly what How’s Mack the Knife does as cosmetic surgery comes under the satirical knife of writers Fenton and Tyler Jacob Jones.

Jones, who also directs, is the writer of that other impressive Fringe piece currently on, F**k Decaf, one of the stars of which was happily chortling along with the rest of us. Skin Deep has all of his trademark wit and is staged with style and energy. 

What elevates this though is that beneath the hilarity there is very perceptive commentary on the beauty industry from all kinds of different angles. This gives it great resonance as it highlights how crazy the pursuit of beauty can sometimes be. There is a positive message at the end, however, that dovetails nicely with the singing of classic pop songs from artists such as The Go-Gos, Cyndi Lauper, ABBA, Katy Perry, and Mike and the Mechanics.

Skin Deep is well performed with deft comic timing and inventive use of songs. The singing is strong with Edwards the standout but they are all terrific in the numerous set-pieces. Timothy How is excellent on keyboards and gets to appropriately ham it up as required. 

Above all this is thoroughly entertaining and a hilarious exploration of an industry that has been around in one form or another for centuries. A must see but hurry, there is only one more performance left this Sunday at 7pm.

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