'Faking Bad' review – inspired parody for fans of both the great TV series and musical theatre
Read our three-star review of the hilarious 'methsical' Faking Bad, now in performances at the Turbine Theatre to 28 October.
It’s been a decade now since we saw the last episode of Breaking Bad, the fan-favourite that ranks alongside The Wire and Mad Men as American TV series that have entered the zeitgeist. Acclaimed spin-off Better Call Saul has also come to an end after a strong six-season run.
So one can immediately understand the impulse behind Faking Bad, an agile, entirely cheerful musical theatre send-up of some pretty dark material that feels like the kind of thing you might stumble giddily across on the Edinburgh Fringe.
I mean, if Stranger Things can occupy pride of place any minute now on the West End, why shouldn’t the tragic arc of New Mexico chemistry teacher-turned-meth addict Walter White, the role that made Bryan Cranston a genuine icon?
An outsized 'F' and 'B' upon entry into the auditorium are given scenic pride of place to ensure that we have come to the right address – a 90-seat black-box venue boasting, for what it’s worth, the nicest staff I’ve come across in ages.
But what about those coming to Faking Bad without obsessive knowledge of its subject? For myself, as an addict less of this series than of the musicals this parody amiably references, I smiled throughout even as I sometimes thought less might be more.
On the other hand, the absence of an interval might diminish the impact of the synoptic masterstroke that occurs as we take our seats for Act II, only to find the entire third season of Breaking Bad dealt with in a single number.
What’s astonishing is how much of the 62 hours of TV across five seasons has made it into this unauthorised “methsical”, which plays “Crystal Blue Persuasion” before proceedings have begun so as to get us in the zone – and to pay due homage to that song’s use in season five.
Actor-musician Richard Costello’s Walter is here a guitar-strumming balladeer with an affinity for Sondheim (I’ll drink to that), who hints at the TV series’ murderous tale as a Sweeney Todd for the modern age.
Musical theatre mavens will enjoy ticking off references, a meta-theatrical sport that has been in vogue now for years. I noted (amongst many such acknowledgments) the Phantom’s mask and a “chemistry”-related exchange worthy of Guys and Dolls. Cranston’s pre-BB renown as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle makes for a neat joke, whilst the sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman is this send-up’s own Billy Flynn, jazz hands and all.
Costello goes it alone as Walter, the cancer sufferer whose financial woes send him spiralling down a psychic and moral abyss. The show’s sizable panoply of supporting characters is divvied up amongst three performers (Natalie Winsor and Nikki Biddington included), one of whom, the protean Rob Gathercole, is the begetter of this very venture. His assignments include freewheeling takes on both Saul and the US drug enforcement agent (and Walter's brother-in-law) Hank.
At times, there’s an overeager larkiness to it all that makes one wonder whether greater rigour might in fact release more of the comedy. And some sort of awareness of the TV roles all but immortalised by Anna Gunn (Skyler White) and Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman) is useful as the expletives and corpses mount.
But key moments will be with me for some while to come. I loved Gretchen’s voicemail messages and the nod toward ear reduction surgery, and Walter Jr’s appearance as a puppet “teeny weeny Walt” is just one of the comic inspirations that reaches beyond fakery to announce Gathercole and his collaborators as the real thing.
Photo credit: Faking Bad (Photo by Danny Kaan)
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