Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Big Hits, Soho Theatre

Review: Big Hits, Soho Theatre

Big Hits certainly doesn’t pull its punches. It swells, over 90 minutes, into a full-blast lambast; a roar of disgust at the world’s hollow frivolity and, moreover, our complicit tolerance – no, our eager, pants-down acceptance – of it.

It starts with two women onstage: one, Lucy McCormick, dolled-up and overtly sexual, a magician’s assistant with a Playboy smirk; the other, Jennifer Pick, in a fluffy rabbit costume and a Bunnygirl’s lace lingerie beneath. McCormick, we’re told, represents us and Pick, everything that makes us safe and secure; the sugar on the pill, if you like, or the photographer’s cutesy glove-puppet of distraction. “Have we got a show for you?” they enthuse. “Yes, um, yes, we have.”

At this point, the show looks like so much Forced Entertainment-style posturing; all flustered amateurism and self-conscious shambles. This was my overriding problem with GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN’s first show, External: its contentedness to regurgitate the Forced Entz glossary wholesale. Given time, however, Big Hits gets beyond it, both with super-smart dramaturgical connections and a willingness to push its terms to an extra level of logical conclusion.

Big Hits plays out to a soundtrack stuck on repeat, as MacCormick trills her way through Hallelujah over and over again. Here she’s breathily seductive, there all showy vibrato. On one occasion, she doesn’t sing at all, leaving this bland synthetised musak to hum away on its own.

It’s a clever, brassy song-choice, bleached as it’s been of meaning. We’re a long way from Leonard Cohen these days. First, John Cale “just picked out the cheeky verses.” Jeff Buckley twisted it into “a hallelujah to the orgasm,” before it was bastardised by X Factor’s Alexandra Burke with a warbled cover that sold 576,000 copies in its first week. The biblical references – to Samson, to Bathsheba – have become empty lines on a karaoke machine, churned through simply to fill the notes with synthetic emotion. “Listen to the song,” McCormick yells, “Listen to it.” It’s nothing but a big hit these days, downgraded to the lowest common denominator and repackaged for commercial purposes.

Behind the two women, acting as downtrodden stage-hand, is Craig Hamblyn, bare-chested and drenched in stage blood. (He has a tendency to play the victim, apparently.) Hamblyn acquiesces to their barked commands – clean this, move that, hold these – with a genial, no-nonsense demeanour. He rattles off corny punning jokes on demand, all as empty and meaningless, as base and one-dimensional, as Hallelujah. As the women phlegm and belch, the belittled and overstretched, Hamblyn gets not a shred of sympathy, even when his outstretched arms quiver under the weight of two speakers. “Less like Christ,” yells McCormick, as if rapping a disciplinary cane against the backs of his knees.

Hamblyn’s punning is an extension of the double-entendres that lace McCormick’s every other line. To start, she flirts with the front row and cackles derangedly in our faces. McCormick is a phenomenally watchable performer with an unhinged quality that lays a turbo-charge. She is dangerous because she has no shame – which is very different from shamelessness. With McCormick, anything is a possibility. She floats on the present moment, and there’s no knowing how far she’ll go.

McCormick basically pawns off her dignity to please us. She whores herself out onstage. As the bunny dry humps her leg, she collapses into giggles. By the time, she’s turned round and fucked, she’s in hysterics that only grow, until her choices seems to bypass all rationality. Everything is done to satisfy our smiles, until suddenly, she’s wopped out a tit, jiggling it comically, squeezing it awkwardly and licking it with an ungainly pornographic relish. Soon, she’s demanding that Craig spank her, really spank her, none of this stage fakery. She starts to demonstrate; her pants hauled down, a mark reddening on her buttocks as we wince in reflex response. Any eroticism of the initial pose – her high heels are still on, her legs cocked seductively – has shattered. There’s only the bitter distaste.

Yet, still she goes further: kneeling skirt-down in the yogic child’s position, her arse splayed open. It’s almost unwatchable, largely because its so freely chosen. The others stand joking to the side; more of these incessant gigglish stupid puns about bum notes or butts of jokes or whatever. Eventually, they give up on wit: “There’s a bit of shit on your arse.” It’s demeaning, but McCormick does whatever is demanded of her. She subjects herself to our viewing pleasure, just as Hamblyn does to her. It’s easy to forget that she’s representing us tonight; that her willing degradation is ours. She’ll do anything for stardom, for commercial success, for an audience.

True, it could do with the final winding-down coda and one wonders if everything onstage is strictly necessary, but this is a show that shouts itself hoarse and shows us up as sell-outs in a scabrous society. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.


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