Tickle: The Musical – King’s Head Theatre, London

Book, Music, Lyrics: Chris Burgess 

Director: Robert McWhir

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

At various times the music, the performers and the storyline all threaten to elevate this show from a feeling of forced fun to something genuinely entertaining, but just don’t quite have the push to follow through. Whether based on a true story or not, the story feels made up, not created – an enjoyable story of a love that cannot be with a layer of feathery McGuffin over the top.

The musical follows Chris and Callum, two boys in the summer after secondary school and waiting for the results to come in. Short of cash, they take up an offer from a woman who saw them play fighting and tickling each other in the park to do it on camera at £500 each per session. She’s a talent scout for Tina Tickle and her burgeoning sporting empire – innocent “competitive” tickling fun on the surface but soon revealed to be something more sinister.

Difficulty arises almost immediately when we learn that Ben Brooker’s Callum has been in love with James McDowall’s Chris for years – finding it difficult to balance these feelings and his clearly valued friendship. This story is sweet, touching, and resolved in a fully charming way. It takes up about 10-15 minutes worth of time, leaving the other 60 for some half-hearted songs, flimsy mystery and revenge storylines, odd displays of the tickling sport and innuendo that’s more boring then bawdy. A saving grace comes with Amy Sutton’s commercially minded business manager (and ring-girl) Davina Diamond. She’s a very fun character – and gives Sutton her a chance to let loose with some super singing in cabaret style moments. Some strange, almost cod-Wildean grand pronouncements from Diamond make her difficult to take too seriously though.

Tina Tickle herself, Richard Watkins in drag persona, is a thin effort when we consider she’s a supposed fulcrum of the whole show. We are given no reason or insight into her foundation or enthusiasm for either this altruistic, joyful sport, nor her twist into vengeful character assassin when things don’t go her way. She says little of interest, and does less. She drinks, takes drugs and seemingly dies – unfortunately to get right back up again.

There’s also a warning for full frontal male nudity – a pointless flash that serves no purpose in the play at all. It could sum up the show – an effort to be bold and cheekily titillate, but indelicately handled and slightly cringy.

Inspired, it seems, by a documentary about this strange world of competitive tickling (the programme’s foreword by Stephen Fry talks about the film, not mentioning the play at all), there’s a real lack of inspiration in the show. It has promise to be fun, bouncy and playful and shed light on a fascinating and niche area of human behaviour. Instead, it barely scratches below superficial, doing the genuinely lovely story with Calum and Chris a disservice.

Runs until 26 October 2019 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Boring, not bawdy.

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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