Southwark Playhouse – until 29 February 2020
Strangely wonderful and wonderfully strange. That’s the only way to sum up People Show 137: God Knows How Many. Basically, two old blokes, aided and abetted by some other old blokes, a chanteuse puppet, and the legs of three can-can dancers, are in a French café where the single croissant has been dusted, ready for sale.
One of the blokes is first seen in only an adult nappy. The other is dressed as a waitress. The entire dialogue is in French. It’s very simple French, but nonetheless, not the language the audience at Southwark Playhouse might be expecting. And yet… my, how they laughed!
Then, just as we’ve relaxed into café society, the phone rings and we’re morphed to corporate England with a discussion about money and investment. Our principals are given names – Mark Long and Emil Wolk, their real names – and events take on a shape.
There are overtones of The Odd Couple as Long and Wolk reflect on their professional relationship. Acting roles have dried up and they can no longer put on the acrobatic shows for which they were known. Long has the solution: he’s written a film.
Wolk agrees to take up smoking to star in Shadow on the Lung. Long himself cannot take on the role. He actually has a shadow on the lung. He’s had to give up smoking. Wolk worries that smoking will have the same effect on him. Long is reassuring. It takes forty years to develop a shadow. As a man in his seventies, Wolk hasn’t the time.
The binding agent across both segments of this 80-minute performance is sand. We have seen it throughout, falling from train carriages and out of urns, filling the bells of brass instruments, taking the bounce out of tennis balls. Time waits for no man. The song we hear across the evening is Autumn Leaves.
Devised by Long, Wolk, George Khan, Bill Palmer and Nigel Edwards, People Show 137 (there have been 136 previous iterations over 50 years) has something for everyone. While the second part is over-indulgent and would benefit from being shorter and sharper, the first is pure joy.