Simon Ward reviews Tickle – The Musical at The King’s Head Theatre
The publicity material is clear – strict 16+ age limit and full frontal nudity – approach with caution. Anyone seeking titillation will be sadly disappointed – the nudity is so ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ to barely (ha!) deserve a mention.
There is, however, rather a lot of tickling. Tickling is odd. It is extremely subjective – some people are ticklish, some not. And even those who are can get sick of it after a while. Or can like it depending who is doing the tickling. The premise of the piece, apparently loosed based on fact, is that tickling can be organised into a competition based on how long each competitor can stand being tickled. But is the competition actually just a device to harvest material to satisfy a large and demanding audience on the internet?
Our heroes are Callum (Ben Brooker) and Chris (James McDowall), recruited by Davina Diamond (Amy Sutton) as likely candidates for the Endurance Tickling competition which she organises on behalf of Tina Tickle (Richard Watkins), a gender-fluid egotist, a cross between a panto dame and a panto villain, who has staged the event for his own ends. The whole thing falls apart as eventually each player refuses to play their allotted part.
The themes are love, friendship, trust, being true to yourself. Callum is in love with Chris, but Chris is straight and in love with his girlfriend. Tickling is an activity they can share, all the while Chris insisting that there is ‘nothing gay about it’. They soon discover that their legion of fans on the internet beg to differ. Who could think there was anything gay about enjoying two scantily-clad young men engaged in vigorous wrestling?
The songs are delivered well without there being any really memorable stand-out tunes. Singing honours going to Amy Sutton, who keeps the show on the road, and manages to be larger than life without overwhelming the tiny room.
It is good fun, camp as Christmas and there are plenty of laughs throughout. However when it tries to move us, the pathos does not quite work and in the end it is not clear what the play is trying to say. That it’s not gay to tickle your best friend, even though he fancies you? Really? The tickling metaphor never quite takes off. The old trope that you cannot tickle yourself is mentioned, so there may be something about how we all rely on each other. It might be about accepting others for who they are, even when that causes you pain. Maybe also the idea that you have to treat others with respect. But in an hour of singing, dancing and tickling nothing really coalesces, and there is not enough time to make us really care about the characters. Ultimately it loses its way after the boys abandon the show, as we don’t care enough about Tina to be especially concerned about his/her downfall.
Tickle – The Musical is running at The King’s Head Theatre, Islington until Saturday 26th October.