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Johnny’s Midnight Goggles, Dome Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, May 12
Holding an audience's attention for an hour with just storytelling and music is no easy task, and performer Matthew Sharp didn't quite manage it in this solo show.
Sitting on a darkened stage with his cello, he conjured the stream of strange events sparked after he spots a black camel on a sports field in a sleepy French town.
His friend Johnny tells him the camel is thought to be a portent of Takrilakastan - another, darker, ancient world. Johnny then goes missing, leaving behind a mysterious pair of goggles bought from an ominous stallholder at a local market. When the French police show no interest in the disappearance, Sharp takes matters into his own hands.
Putting on the goggles, he finds himself transported to Takrilakastan, via a train packed with bearded ladies, bomb-carrying dwarves and a freakish dog (no surprises the piece has drawn comparisions to Tim Burton's work). The race is then on to find Johnny and bring him home.
Sharp was an engaging, enthusiastic storyteller and used his voice and cello inventively to build atmosphere throughout the story. Johnny and his crazy shopping habits were introduced to the audience via some woozy four-bar blues, the bearded lady sang like an eastern-European Edith Piaf, tension was highlighted by anxious plucking of the cello strings.
His singing was at times grating, veering from the operatic to West End musical cheese. The show also lost direction towards the end, when the weird and wonderful became the confused and convoluted. It was hard to know whether there was meant to be some deeper meaning that had gotten lost in translation, or whether the plot had simply run out of steam.
It was far from perfect, but put it this way - if stranded with Sharp on a desert island, you wouldn't hurry the rescue team.