April 2012 saw the hotly-anticipated return of Club Fantastico, Steve Oram and Tom Meeten’s somewhat unhinged comedy night.
With guest appearances from Alice Lowe, Waen Shepherd and Rich Fulcher, The Velvet Onion was, naturally, on hand at The Vandella in Shepherds Bush to experience the madness.
Velveteer Mog reports…
Club Fantastico is a difficult beast to pin down. For a brief, fleeting moment at the start of the show, you’d be forgiven for thinking Oram and Meeten are a traditional comedy double act: two blokes (one with beard) in smart grey suits, matey banter with a northern twang – it’s there.
Then, slowly at first, strange things start to happen, as if a LSD-spiked dream is gradually revealing itself on stage. Oram’s hilarious, heaving hatred of The Manic Street Preachers seems to be the catalyst, swiftly followed the techno aggression of Sean the Prawn (menacing as hell in a salmon-pink mac). It’s at this point you realise it’s going to be a very silly night indeed.
The acts come thick and fast, each one fractionally more bizzarre than the one that precedes it: A 1940′s wartime lesbian wrestling singalong with the fantastically talented Alice Lowe; then Waen Shepherd who’s painted up like one of the weirder characters from Blue Velvet, singing ear-boggling songs like “Saucy Little Infant” , that are as clever and funny as they are inappropriate.
This is followed by a foul-mouthed, sarcastic baby with a vibrator, played a little too convincingly (for someone about to become a parent!) by Rich Fulcher.
“I have no moral compass, I’m a baby!” he hollers at the front few rows. A throwback to his Jackal Films cameo, thanks to his performance I will never think about my nether regions in quite the same way again. Cheers, Rich.
This procession of oddness is punctuated by pitch-perfect deadpan conversations with Oram and Meeten’s beyond-mundane friend “John” (Alex Kirk) from the back of the room. While apparently throwaway, these help to reset vibe in the venue for the next performance.
The show ends with the infamous Club Fantastico Beauty Contest: a close-run showdown between a horny feral German (Lowe), a defecating Geisha (Sean, formerly of ‘prawn’ fame) and Blake Lively (Waen Shepherd). Gloriously silly stuff!
This was an evening with the potential to exclude the audience with its strangeness. However the oddness of the acts was beautifully balanced by Oram and Meeten’s between-act stage presence, which leant the evening a joyful energy and charm that carried the audience along in a warm embrace.
The dynamic between the two performers is perfectly pitched, each one taking their turn in the spotlight, while the other provides a supportive comedic harmony. So we get to admire Meeten’s deranged Irish singer, silenced only by the bag on his head, and of course the divine Mary, Oram’s sublime alter-ego with bad teeth and a red dress. Each in turn, and also together. Tonight, the evening is Oram and Meeten’s.
Club Fantastico offers a thoroughly modern take on Vaudeville theatre, managing to strike the tricky balance between chaos and watchability. From the crowd’s noisy reaction to the performances it’s clear that it’s a club with a lot of support. When that the crowd includes the likes of of Julian Barratt, Dan Clark, Simon Farnaby & Arnab Chanda, as it did last week, that’s not to be sniffed at.
The second instalment of the rebooted Club Fantastico in July 2012 was another gloriously cockeyed comedy night at The Vandella. Velveteer Mog was on hand once more to report back on the proceedings:
Every day of this so-called summer it’s rained. Every night it’s poured. And then on Thursday evening Club Fantastico came to West London. Still it rained. But for two hours it didn’t matter – because the sun shone inside The Vandella.
The limitations of the English language make describing Club Fantastico something of a challenge. “Warm-hearted insanity” comes close, as does “drunken dreamscape comedy”, but they only really scratch the surface of what the show is about. To give you an idea, last week’s gig included a tennis-playing pixie and a tug of love between disco-loving brothers (Oram & Meeten) who tried to win the heart of a leotard-clad Alice Lowe by force-feeding her carrots and cocaine. Oram’s towering platform boots deserve their own comedy night!
Then there was a phonecall with Erol the pet lizard, musical interludes from Gary Le Stange, and a beauty pageant featuring the woman from the 1980′s Timotei ads, Britain’s most dangerous woman (who legged it through the front door of the venue) and a sexed-up militant lesbian (Waen Shepherd in eye-popping form). The lesbian won, in case you were wondering.
Add to this the brilliantly daft ‘Spoon-iscope’ (“Feeding peanuts over distance”) and Tom Meeten as the red man in the corner of Steve Oram’s tramp’s eye (think Edward Scissorhands meets George Galloway on Big Brother 2006), and you’re almost there.
All of this is underpinned and anchored by the magical double-act dynamic of Oram & Meeten themselves. When they’re both on stage you can’t help but giggle – it’s a lovely thing to behold.
Club Fantastico will be back later in the year, so if it’s physically possible to get yourself to Shepherds Bush when it’s happening, just make sure you do.