B-Movies aren’t my forté. I’ve never seen too much of the allure – they seem to coat over cracks with ironic abandon, turning what can be low budget charm far too often into unfulfilling and incomplete artistic exercises. Call me a snoot, but the greatest cultural exports from them are often the tongue-in-cheek memes that accompany their existence. The scripts from the likes of Trolls 2 resonate far more than the actual films.
So I was wary about going into The Toxic Avenger, despite all the clamour and hype I’d heard about it. And it’s worth admitting that to some extent it was hard to work out why, during the show, everyone around me seemed to be laughing far more than I was.
Maybe they weren’t sober, maybe they were understanding some latent, Hollywood in-joke that I wasn’t privy too. Either way, I felt as though I was missing the party.
For those who don’t know the plot, nerdy New Jersey boy Melvin (Mark Anderson) is determined to clean up the pollution in his city until he is shoved into a vat of acid and transformed into the titular Avenger. Mayhem ensues, with a lot of audience chortling through the morbid and gross humour.
For me the show felt like too little toxic butter spread over too much toxic bread and, after watching the fourth or fifth joke about the lead female (a powerhouse, show-stopping performance from Emma Salvo) being blind, or that a character is multi-roling, the laughter wore thinner than some of the two dimensional characters.
I don’t mean to be overly critical, as indeed, there were some hilarious moments in the show, which picked up intensely as the second act carried on. Benji Sperring directs fluidly, excitingly. One almost wishes that the show went back to its Edinburgh slot – at 11 pm, once you’ve had more drinks and a chance to bask in the anarchy of theatre. Get yourself into the right headspace.
Sperring is right about many things in his programme notes for The Toxic Avenger, but one in particular stands out. We still need shows like this B-Movie surreal adaptation in the West End – they are the purest representation of the eccentric and, fundamentally, talented theatrical writing that typifies the beating heart of the British stage. While there may be a place for jukebox musicals or quaint revivals of classics, it is the fist pumping surreality of the likes of Toxic that really give this space the diversity it’ll need to survive. It may not have been my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean I would want it any other way.