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Intimate History
Published on Tuesday, 04 May 2010

There’s an air of well-crafted anticipation surrounding the start of this show.  Arriving at Grand Central, the bar which sits beneath the Nightingale Theatre, you’re handed a folder and shown to a table; before long, a man with a waiter’s pad appears.  He’s there to take your order, but it’s not food that’s on the menu… you’re choosing from a smorgasbord of six musical-theatre vignettes, served up as part of Jake Oldershaw’s Intimate History.

You get to choose, you see, because this show is just for you.  You’re the only audience member, you occupy the only chair – and for the ten brief minutes that the performance lasts, you’re the sole object of almost overwhelming attention.  Half-sung, half-shouted, the sensory onslaught begins with a bellowed invitation to enter, and doesn’t end until you’re led out back to the bar.  It’s loud, it’s visual – and it’s literally in your face.

But don’t be put off: the interaction’s intense, yet courteous and well-judged.  By the end of the ten-minute set I’d built up a genuine rapport with the crazy guy in front of me who, for some reason I never quite divined, was singing at me through a megaphone.

There’s a surprisingly extensive backing cast – from the waiter who takes your “order” through to the besuited usher who leads you out at the end – and although there’s clearly no time for real character development, I did leave feeling I’d learned a little about them all.  The pianist, in particular, plays out a delightful low-key cameo, all wild-eyed enthusiasm as he hammers the ivories discordantly in the background.

For the record, I chose to hear the story of an injured man who became a turn-of-the-century medical curiosity.  It was interesting enough, thought-provoking in its way, and had a pleasantly thrilling shock part-way through.  But it’s hard to focus on the plot when there’s this much sound and fury; it would be like taking a roller-coaster and commenting on the view.

In the final analysis it’s all exquisitely Fringe, but there’s one crux question: can ten minutes’ theatre really ever be enough?  If you’d made a special trip up to the Nightingale Theatre, you might leave feeling a little short-changed.  But that ingenious at-table service saves the day: you can go with some friends, have a pint while you wait your turn, and leave with a story to tell.  So make your choice, head upstairs, knock on the door... and brace for impact.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.