How well I remember my misspent youth in the old country, stuck in front of the box on a Saturday evening watching cheery Irish comedian Terry Wogan presenting “A Song For Europe”, a series of shows in which the nation was asked to pick the best of six offerings from aspiring song writers. After listening to the choices one might have been forgiven for wondering to what, exactly, they were aspiring. Well, in the first place, they hoped their song would be chosen to represent Britain in an illustrious international competition.
Before “The Voice”, before “Idol”, before “Red Faces” there was “The Eurovision Song Contest”. One of the world’s longest running TV shows, spanning 57 years, its reputation is both famous and infamous. It is perhaps best known for catapulting Swedish pop sensation ABBA to international stardom after their song “Waterloo” took the trophy in 1974. But for many of those who have watched the show, it is the regular technical gaffs and political faux pas that remain indelibly imprinted on our memories along with a unique range of songs and performances that have spanned the beautiful, the bad and the bizarre.
Now the best and worst flavours of this multicultural stew have been brought to the Wyong Memorial Hall in Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision, a hilarious and astutely observed spoof by Craig Christie and Andrew Patterson that captures the contest in all its cheesy, eclectic, spectacular glory. Winner of Best New Musical at Edinburgh Festival 2007, and nominated for Best Musical in London’s West End, it is described by WMTC director, Pollyanna Forshaw as “ a musical extravaganza of ‘What??!!’ moments”
As in the original show there are a number of ‘entries’ representing various European countries and, for reasons best understood by the competition organisers, Morocco. Audiences are entertained by a diverse range of songs, such as Hungary’s “Apro Madarakkai” (Little Birds), a touching traditional folk song about strangling chickens. They are surprised by the ‘reveal’ in Greece’s “Oh Aphrodite”, thrilled by Bollywood style dancing to Morocco’s “Vindaloo”, puzzled by Liechtenstein’s song – which has no words, just hazmat suits, a bell, a cat and a balloon – and wave their flags and sing along (if they can remember the lyrics) to Ireland’s “La La La”.
In the interval audience members are invited to vote for their favourite entry (“the most important vote you’ll cast this year”quip competition hosts Sergei and Boyka (Marc Calwell and Seanne Colbert-Smith). Afterward they are transported across Europe to receive the votes from the international judges and await with bated breath the all important audience decider that will determine the winner (and the end of the show).
Eurobeat is the second WMTC show directed by the multi-talented Pollyanna Forshaw (director of the stunning 2011 production Jesus Christ Superstar), and perhaps the most ambitious and lavish that I have seen the company perform. It required not only a huge cast but the co-ordinated efforts of a mammoth design, construction and technical crew (not to mention the production of hundreds of flags!) And Polly has orchestrated all of these facets to create a magnificent audio-visual spectacle.
Singers representing the thirteen countries have received vocal direction from Greg Gould, and their performances are choreographed by nine different choreographers ensuring a range of styles that are diverse, idiosyncratic, corny, OTT, fun and hilarious.
Technical innovations in sound and visual include spots, strobes and laser lighting, and green screen technology to transport the action through different European settings. Special credit is deserved for the rich, colourful and imaginative costuming. Every country was presented with unique themes, and hosts Segei and Boyka changed costumes for every appearance, each more extravagantly outrageous than the last. Kudos to designer, Daryl Ganter, for his enormous contribution to this extraordinary visual feast.