And in their gravy, they shall have glory…
‘Tom and Bunny Save the World’ would have felt more complete if Tom and Bunny actually saved the world. They did find gravy, which can help contain the Big Zombie Virus. And the Big Zombie Virus is what this play is about. Bunny, facing a life crisis after sleeping with her girlfriend’s Dad, and Tom, a charmingly fervent Grandma’s boy, come face to face with an actual crisis about life. The Zombies are here, and they’re taking over England.
Tom and Bunny team up and head to Yorkshire, making friends with military Kai and a doctor, Pearl. We are left with a sense of anticipation as they brace themselves for the final battle.
Despite some holes in story logic, this ensemble charm with punchy witticisms and outright hilarity, captivating the crowd with wild ridiculousness. Shrieks of laughter and catatonic guffaws abound. Tom and Bunny Stitch the World is perhaps a more appropriate title.
I’ve never been to Yorkshire! Britain’s largest county!
The Vaults is a happily grass-roots feeling festival in the heart of central London, below Waterloo Station. You emerge from graffiti-encrusted subways into violet lights, brick, tunnels. It’s a chill, chalkboard vibe, with a youthful crowd. I’m talking ‘of spirit’, although practically speaking you were hard pressed to find an over-forty-looking trawler at the festival. I’d love to see more diversity of age here.
Upon entry to the space:
A minimally decked stage with two privacy screens. One decorated as a nuclear station, ‘a secret operation, but somewhere in Scotland’, with security cameras of EVERYWHERE and EVERYTHING and EVERYONE.
The other, a map of England and her surroundings, values accuracy above all else.
“Elected a monkey”, “nervous sheep”, “Liam Neeson” and “zone of north/Midlands confusion” are all very well-known and popular parts of the mainland. This is an English comedy, for English audiences. But it didn’t stop me appreciating le but, or in English, the point. The mock glorification of Yorkshire in all of the right and proper English self-segregational triumph was right and proper. And very funny.
I’m seeing Fat Rascal in reverse; last year I saw their most recent musical, a gender-reversed parody of Beauty and the Beast. This is an earlier creation which has been jazzed-updated to 2018. My primary lack was wanting to see them tackle completely original material and test their own boundaries. Here, I see original material but it feels much less evolved than B & B. Which is actually a very positive thing; clearly, whatever they’re working on, they get better each time.
Everybody needs an apocalypse buddy ooooh
The beacons of this crusade are Jamie Mawson and Katie Wells, appearing in roles with superficial similarities to their parts in the last Fat Rascal I saw; the finicky idealist and the masculine, empowered female. They were strikingly different in this show; a mean feat when wrestling with a similar archetype.
Mawson as Tom has the charisma of a Cera with the specificity of a Cumberbatch. What a versatile gem. His curly locks sprouting frothy about his head, his searching eyes portray only the truest of true enthusiasm or tragedy. Look, I’m not in season, the kid’s got something special. It’s truth combined with an understanding of style. I want an apocalypse buddy like this.
Robyn Grant as Bunny is more presentational with her acting. She’s got energy and has made strong choices, but lacks a little of the authentic intention that could land more empathy. She fixates with intensity but isn’t as organic in the moment. She is “in it.” Perhaps her creative faculties have been involved in the book and lyrics, which I truly can’t state enough, are some of the most exciting I’ve seen in fringe theatre. Many people make their own work nowadays; less people do it well, even less, specially. Grant does. One number with an ensemble ‘asleep’ under a quilt, who wake up to accentuate a seduction with ‘Apocalypse… Tongue and lips… Thigh and hips’ evokes the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The woman can also sing.
Katie Wells. When Pearl is in labour and needs to be held down, Wells Kai whips out her gun and points it at her. Her dogged sincerity and experimentation with opposites in her work is so darn funny. She also has a really pretty voice that doesn’t quite fly free in this piece, but is lovely to listen to. Her sincerity is her winning currency.
Allie Munro as Pearl is less featured in this production than the last I saw, and has less capacity to exhibit her impressive versatility. That said, she manages to shine in moments; her “active listening” is squawk-worthy, and the woman navigates a baby bump with attractive ease. In my fondness for her work, perhaps I am partial. James Boyd as Mike and Luke Dunford as Gareth round out the ensemble with versatile, physically electric performances.
I’d call it Red. One Syllable. Strong. You’re not going to f*** with Red.
The company are talented and unpretentious at blasting gender stereotypes out of the water. They’re not whiny or forcible, they’re just chill. They neutralize and question potentially dangerous moulds, to a liberating and ironic effect.
Excellence in movement and ensemble work should no longer be deemed as capable only by the elite-funded. Fat Rascal proclaim it so. In fact, the amount of internalized yawns and forced smiles we see on many a West End stage hollows away at mark-hitting, award-winning staging. It contrasts with these passion-driven performers, whose revelry is authentic. And I’m sure their paychecks are nowhere near as purchasing.
Through collaboration and intelligence, they are totally infallible team players. Their movements seem infused with enthusiastic jumping jacks, even when they’re standing completely still. Watching someone put on a shoe has never been so stomach crampingly funny. Little moments like ‘kicking the dirt in frustration’ are professional, winning touches. I’m sure watching these folks devise and rehearse would be a fascinating joy. They have, I suspect, architected and stumbled upon distinct, inspired beats, through both improvisation and calculation.
That said, they aren’t all Pizzazz Parade; try Fighting Finesse. Their tone shifts perfectly within the world they have created, bringing moments of light and shade. We’ve got the rise and falls here and most form, just not the resolution; they’re poised to save the world, but we don’t see it. More logic could also elevate it: for example, a more imperative reason for experts Kai & Pearl to team up with the protagonists; the earlier introduction of the WI, a consolidated womens’ group.
“This is just like the end of Love Actually.”
“Except I’ve got a personality and Mike’s not a c**t.”
In my previous review (Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody) for Fat Rascal, I had hoped to see something completely original to see this company push their boundaries. I have now seen an original starting point, from which they have grown. And boy have they blossomed from this point; so all I have to say is that if they’ve grown… they’re doing well. They’re doing swell. Let ‘em be swell for you and you’ll chuckle with might. Even if you’re a stiff upper lip or have a particularly unmalleable moustache. It will quiver in delight at Tom and Bunny Save the World.
Tom and Bunny Save the World is on tour. They are currently playing at the Birmingham Old Joint Stock Theatre until the 24th March. For further dates and company information, see fatrascaltheatre.com