‘Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens’ was originally produced in 1995 for the Edinburgh Festival. Since its conception, it’s been seen in a startling assortment of venues as varied as fire stations, big-tops and a custom-designed club in a railway arch. In terms of the West End, it had a 12-week run at the Queen’s Theatre in 1998, and it’s now back for a re-run, this time at The Venue, a small, cabaret-like theatre just off Leicester Square.
Put together by a veritable gaggle of personnel, the book was written by Charlotte Mann who also co-wrote the lyrics with Michael Fidler, the director, and the music was scored by Jonathan Croose and Robin Forrest.
The show has more in common with cabaret than what might be described as ‘traditional musical theatre’. Indeed, it was conceived to appeal specifically to those who prefer a club-like feel to their theatrical entertainment.
With a title like ‘Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens’, my first thought was that it had to be either incredibly good, or pathetically bad. On the production’s web site, the show is described as ‘an interactive, high-energy musical’, so I was dreading the possibility of audience participation, which in most circumstances makes me cringe (but I’m having therapy for it).
However, ‘Saucy Jack’ turns out not to be pathetically bad at all, but it’s also not exceptionally good either. And the problem doesn’t lie with the enthusiastic cast, but in the script, which just isn’t sufficiently ‘over the top’ to provide the vehicle for an all-out riotously-funny evening. Certainly, it’s got humorous moments with a few on-liners that had me chuckling. But to write great material for this kind of musical, takes a lot of talent and craft, but it’s not really evident in this script.
The plot (if one can call it that) wouldn’t stretch the intellect of a stage mouse (but then it’s not really meant to). Saucy Jack is the owner of a cabaret bar on the planet Frottage 3). A serial killer is bumping-off the acts with stilettos, the latest victim being Vulva Savannah. However, help is soon at hand with the arrival of the ‘Space Vixens’ - ‘ball-busting space cops’ who carry hairdryers in their utility belts, and drive criminals insane with their relentless singing of disco anthems.
Regular readers will know about my fixation with smoke effect, which now seems to be a tedious but compulsory feature of every other production I attend. ‘Saucy Jack’ is no exception to this rule, billowing-up cumulus-sized clouds of the stuff from every available aperture in the auditorium. But, since the producers of ‘Saucy jack’ seem to have bought-up all remaining supplies of smoke-effect powder, I’m now looking forward to enjoying ‘smoke-free’ productions in the future (unless my editor dispatches me to review Jack again).
I haven’t seen this musical in any of its former incarnations, so it’s hard to tell how it’s developed and matured (I use that term lightly) over the years. But I suspect the original production in Edinburgh drew a younger crowd, and as such managed to inject more audience participation into it (aided, possibly, with considerable amounts of liquid refreshment of the alcoholic variety).
The current production, set in a more traditional theatre setting (even though it’s an intimate space with some cabaret-style tables) had the audience somewhat bemused – at least in the first half. As is often the case, everything picked-up pace after the bar had poured a few drinks during the interval, and the show itself gained some new momentum. But even then, I felt there was little real ‘interaction’ between the cast and the audience.
There was one good piece of ad-libbing by Scott Baker, who takes the lead as Saucy Jack, when one member of the audience applauded. “I bet that man’s given the clap many a time”, said Baker. But that was really about the extent of the ‘interaction’ in this production, apart from a bit of neck-massage (or should that be neck ‘frottage’?).
Overall, the singing wasn’t bad, though it was sometimes hard to hear the words. The tunes themselves weren’t particularly memorable, but they weren’t unduly offensive either. The cast, as I’ve said, were enthusiastic, and I particularly liked Scott Baker’s interpretation of Jack, which had a nice touch of the sinister mixed with the pathological.
Unfortunately, it’s hard not to compare ‘Saucy Jack’ with the ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, which has had a long history, and still has a strong cult following. There are many similarities between the two musicals. But ‘Saucy Jack’ really falls far short of the standard that ‘Rocky Horror’ established, and even though is seems to have some devoted followers (rather worryingly, one member of the audience seemed to know every single line in the production by heart!) it really doesn’t have the wit or inventiveness to give it the longevity that ‘Rocky Horror’ has enjoyed and richly deserves. But since it keeps re-appearing in various venues, maybe I’m missing something, or maybe someone’s just such a devotee of the piece that they’re happy to keep pouring money into it.
Fun at times, ‘Saucy Jack’ is really sauce without the substance, and in my book at least it’s the substance that counts.