The first time I saw Howard Coggins and Stu Mcloughlin perform as Living Spit was at The Blakehay Theatre in Weston-super-Mare on the 12th of September 2012. They were performing The Six Wives of Henry VIII, their first ever show as a company, and I remember laughing so hard during the performance that I was sure I was in danger of breaking something internally. (Actually, I was 8 months pregnant at the time, and I got quite a few kicks from my baby, as I was probably laughing a bit hard for her liking. She stayed put, thankfully.) I made a mental note to look out for these two in the future. Since that first show, there have been a further seven, and I’m lucky that I have seen them all. Living Spit have a commitment to bringing theatre to unusual venues, so some of these shows I have seen in pubs, one in an empty shop and one even in a disused quarry. On Saturday 12th November the venue for the show was a bit more traditional. The boys were back in Weston as part of the Autumn/Winter season at the newly opened theatre space in the Tropicana with their latest offering Frankenstein, a co-production with Salisbury Playhouse and directed by Craig Edwards. We were so pleased to welcome them back to our hometown.
I’m sure you don’t need much of an introduction to the story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, although Living Spit’s take on it is probably nothing like any you will have seen before. Howard Coggins plays the tortured genius Victor Frankenstein who attempts to conquer death after becoming deeply affected by the demise of his mother. And his hamster Greg. Frankenstein trawls the cemeteries of Geneva by night; carrying body parts home in his tartan shopping trolley so he can create a human and bring it to life. Stu Mcloughlin plays the creature that Frankenstein gives life to, and in this show it seems that Stu drew the short straw about who would spend most of the performance running around in his pants. Mind you, he had to actually put them on first!
Normally Howard and Stu are the only actors on stage, but in Frankenstein a four-piece band joins them. Rebekah Hughes, Tom Knott, Lauren Redding and Mike Slader bring a whole new feel to the Living Spit experience.
I was really impressed with the auditorium; the banked seating that the company had installed were a welcome addition that made things feel polished and professional before the show had even started. Having seating like this really helped as I have been at previous performances at The Trop where you couldn’t always see the action if you were nearer the back. We were right at the back, and could see the whole thing clearly. As it turned out, this was the most lavish production I have seen put on by Howard and Stu, the budget for this one was clearly a lot more than in the days where costumes were purchased from charity shops for no more than a tenner. With a bigger show comes higher production values, and the look and sound of this show did not disappoint. The band was excellent; musically and lyrically it was fantastic. However, tonight I felt I lost a little of what I have always liked so much about watching Howard and Stu perform. They are small but perfectly formed. (It’s OK Stu, I’m talking about your theatre company…) When I’ve seen them before, there is always a sense that you have been welcomed in to a performance by a couple of your mates. I guess their performance style better suits smaller, more intimate venues and when the show really works it is special; you won’t find anything funnier. That said, it’s a minor criticism. The show is wonderfully scripted, and there are a couple of scenes when I was struggling to breathe as I was laughing so hard. Stu and Howard are as funny, self-depreciating and likeable as ever. The choreography in the scene where the creature is reanimated is nothing short of genius and had the audience roaring and shrieking with laughter. Perhaps the show needs a little tweaking and tightening up in places, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that it is hilariously funny and an absolutely cracking night out.
I’d highly recommend you get to this show if you can, but seats might be hard to come by, as the first night was a sellout. Frankenstein is on for the rest of the week and comes to an end on Sunday 20th November, so there is plenty of time to secure the hottest ticket in town.
Review by Karen Blake