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Backing onto the stage with a large box of flat-pack scenery, Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding, aka LipService Theatre, smashed their way through theatrical convention with charm and aplomb from the outset.  With a knowing wink to their audience, they bragged that their sparce backdrop would be suitable for a performance of Ibsen, Chekov or the Pirates of Penzance.  A flat-pack tree was put together with help from the front row who held bags containing inadequate numbers of wooden pegs, the obligatory allen key and, naturally, a knitted spanner.

The comedy duo commenced with a puppet prologue which featured some innovative, food-based sound-effects.  This gave way to a parody of the Swedish crime thriller, The Killing, spliced with an investigation into the private lives of the fictional seventies glam pop group, Fabba.  From the moment the pair stepped onto the stage, the laughter began to surge up around me and it only really paused for ice cream and tree decoration during the interval.

This performance was akin to a winding, narrative joke played out with touches of the avant-garde, surrealism and slapstick physicality.  The fourth wall was thoroughly and repeatedly smashed via deliberately mis-timed costume changes and characters were set aside at the drop of a hat to enable converation with the audience. Live action ran alongside music and film, some of which pertained to the fictional investigation, while another clip documented the duo’s research expedition to Ikea.

There was a pleasing moment when part of the audience cheered to see their knitted props making up the scenery.  Blackpool’s arts and culture group, Aunty Social, played a large part in putting together a group of knitters to help create the set and this was a real success – there are some incredibly skilled craftspeople in this town. In fact, this performance was a cacophany of visual delights, from the 500km car journey towards the murder scene with a variety of hilarious roadkill, to the wondrous book of scenery complete with fake filing cabinets and knitted cuckoo clock, and the bizarre conversations between a pair of moose.  Have you ever seen two women dressed as moose dancing Gangnam style?  I have.

The first half contained the majority of the laughs with the second half losing its way slightly among a flurry of activity which I confess I found bewildering in parts.  This may have been down to the size of the stage at The Grand Theatre which is a large space to traverse for a duo, especially considering the frequent costume changes.  The piece had a fringe feel to it which lent an approachable charm, allowing the audience to relax in a way that larger ensembles struggle to accomplish.

Maggie and Sue were bold and beautiful in their characterisation and confidence on the stage.  The pair bounced off each other in a manner reminiscent of live improvisation or a sketch show and their rapport was unmistakable.  I have no doubt that many members of the audience will have felt both entertained and inspired by their showmanship.

The performance on 15th October was the premier for Inspector Norse which is set to traverse the north, from Halifax to Harrogate to Hull, over the Winter, adding a touch of humorous Nordic Noir to the dark nights.  The next stop is Liverpool Unity Theatre on 19th -20th October.  The show on Friday 19th is sold out but if you’re quick you might get a ticket for the Saturday night.

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