Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking hit British theatre like a…
The continuing success of the X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice and er, Stars in their Eyes proves that the talent contest is in rude, if unwanted health. However, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is home to a talent show that provides way more excitement and far better judges, says Stewart Who?
As Cheryl Fernandez-Versini juggles another lip synch scandal and Simon Cowell attempts to refresh a very tired format, I’ve been pondering my own experience as a judge in a talent contest. Last Friday, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern hosted a fundraising event titled The Tavern’s Got Talent. Yours truly was asked by the organisers to be on the judging panel, alongside Jonathan Hellyer and David Hoyle.
Blood and genius
Hoyle (formerly The Divine David) is easily the most intelligent, avant-garde and terrifying performance artist to grace a stage. He recently did a painting in his own blood, live on stage (though he did struggle to find a vein, as most had collapsed due to the speed habit). He’s had his own TV shows and is regarded by many as a troubled, complicated genius.
Hellyer is widely known as the Dame Edna Experience and is undoubtedly one of the best vocalists on the scene. Able to mimic classic singers, his renditions of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’ are utterly unnerving. Oh, and he’s one of the sharpest stand up comics in the UK.
The venue was set up in a low rent impersonation the ITV show and eight contestants had spent the week auditioning, rehearsing and flapping over their song choices. Unfortunately there were no ventriloquists, acrobats or animals involved, all the entrants were singers.
One of the vocalists happened to be a friend called Dan. For years he’s made a nuisance of himself by singing in my ear while I’ve attempted to DJ. While he seemed to possess a nice voice, it was a distracting habit and often led to him being physically removed from the booth.
In the week prior to the contest, he became increasingly hysterical with worry. Dan was the first contestant onstage and after his performance, the spotlights came up on the judges and what had previously seemed like a spot of camp fun became terribly serious.
The sudden gravity of the occasion was surprising. Equally unexpected were Dan’s Disney eyes, filled with watery terror. After I’d ‘fessed up to our friendship and complimented his silky tones, David Hoyle said that in a word, he’d been ‘wooden’ and Jonathan Hellyer highlighted his nervy stage presence.
Judge and jury
The difficulty as a judge in such scenarios is that you’re tempted to be cutting in order to get a cheap laugh. Savaging somebody while they look you in the eye, silently pleading for mercy is more challenging than you might think. Until you get drunk.
As the evening wore on and management plied us with alcohol, the opinions became surreal, long-winded, unfocused and odd.
My forthright views on a couple of the performances led to several occasions where the audience felt it necessary to ‘boooooo’ like children at panto. While I was tipsily channelling my inner Cowell, poor Dan was outside the pub, telling a concerned crowd of well wishers that he was ready to throw himself under a bus.
He got voted through to the final round, but sadly came third. All contestants went home with a ‘I Survived the Tavern’s Got Talent’ medal. The final stage of Dan’s Boyle-esque melt down came when he was accosted by a homeless tarot card reader. The soothsaying tramp opined that Dan was ‘about to be very lucky’.
‘LUCKY!?’ Dan screamed, ‘I just got beaten by a chav with a guitar and a fat, camp Eurovision wannabe. FUCK OFF!’
He then threw his medal at the tramp’s head and stormed off into the night. Sadly, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern didn’t have the budget to put him in The Priory. On the upside, the event raised £2,000 for The Food Chain, so at least Dan’s breakdown was for a good cause.