Stack

Wed 3rd – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Maddy Searle

at 22:43 on 20th Aug 2016

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This show is a testament to one man’s irrepressible energy. Ed MacArthur plays Stackard Banks, a TV explorer who is as imperialist as he is sexist. MacArthur’s tireless vivacity and cartoonish presence are a delight to watch. MacArthur also plays various other characters, either through meticulously timed pre-recorded voices, or just by standing in a slightly different position and putting on an accent. This sounds very odd, but it works surprisingly well - after a while the audience stops noticing, as it all blends seamlessly together.

One of the pre-recorded voices, however, is not made by MacArthur. It is composed of various statements made by the pop icon Sting in a number of interviews from YouTube. The fact that they are rambling, out-of-context nonsenses only makes the whole thing funnier. As Sting accompanies Stackard (AKA Stack) Banks on his expedition to the rainforest, along with many other characters, we see Stack’s complete arrogance and disregard for others. Stack’s arch-nemesis, von Schlieffenplan, is another one of his creations. A complete parody of the evil German trope, this character adds to the macho humour and blokey plot-line.

Taking inspiration from boy-scout tales of derring do, and films like 'Bourne Ultimatum', the plot is a little pedestrian, but plays second fiddle to the plethora of giggle-worthy gags sprinkled throughout the show. Many of these play on misogynistic and stereotypical tropes, but this is clearly the point, to self-consciously make fun of traditional jokes.

There are several points where Stack breaks the fourth wall and introduces a new way of telling the story. While not being the most accomplished singer, MacArthur is definitely an ace performer. His lyrics are hands-down hilarious, as well as his over-the-top style. Furthermore, his “gritty postmodern monologue” is spot on for anyone who has seen any grungy new theatre, or studied drama at school.

However, the introduction of Annie McGrath to the story is where things start to go awry. She plays Princess Ani, Stack’s tribal bride. Her acting is underwhelming at best, and her singing is not as punchy or in-tune as her co-star. Her use of her body, in terms of posture, movement and dance, is accomplished, but her delivery is a bit flat.

Overall, this performance is an enjoyable night out, filled with innovative methods of storytelling and snappy one-liners. However, it should have stayed a one-man show, as I could have happily watched MacArthur talk to himself for another hour.

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Lizzy Galliver

at 10:37 on 21st Aug 2016

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Combine JP from Fresh Meat with Bear Grylls and you have Mr Stackard Banks. Stackard Wanks. Stack. Your clichéd outgrown gap-yah schoolboy, turned wannabe celebrity explorer, turned egotistical documentary-maker. Recounting an Amazonian quest to “save a tribe of Africans in Brazil”, Ed MacArthur’s solo performance exudes energy, wit, and an unusual yet largely successful mix of comedy and music.

Success lies largely in MacArthur’s unique onstage presence. His ability to master a slick and sustained monologue while also dancing around stage at a rapidly increasing tempo is both impressive and engaging. The audience is quickly convinced of Stack’s dim, narcissistic persona, which develops throughout the performance as he reaches semi-deific status and establishes a delusional dictatorship, tucking an offhand massacre under his experiential belt. Sanity restored and sobriety regained (following a brief addiction to native narcotic, "ibogu"), Stack returns to England to sell his story and slum it at the Fringe. “I came out here to find a tribe”, we are complacently told. “But I found something way, way more important… myself".

At times the set overplays its characteristic satire of cultural insensitivity by verging on, well… cultural insensitivity. Anecdotes of tribal sacrifice by immolation make me wince, and the frequent bragging of exotic sexual victories becomes somewhat tedious. On the whole, though, the tale functions to mock cleverly both the emptiness of celebrity culture and a worryingly prevalent ‘white saviour’ superiority complex. As Stack dismisses the struggles of indigenous rights groups for self-determination, MacArthur implicitly condemns the neo-colonialist overtones of modern-day ‘British expeditions’ into the ‘jungle’.

Comical engagements with topical "bloody EU" jokes, a well-received parody of "a gritty post-modern monologue" (the results of a £50,000 drama course), and frequent interjections of abstract life advice from Sting make for an eccentric and hysterically funny script. Add this to deliberately amateur tech accompaniments – such as gushing fan voiceovers and the trippy PowerPoint videos supplementing Stack’s amusing musical numbers – and you have the unlikely ingredients for a riotous success.

Some jokes are stretched a little thin throughout the hour. And the added appearances of native princess (Annie McGrath) and German arch nemesis are entertaining but extraneous. Ultimately, however, ‘Stack’ fulfils the ‘very silly play’ label it ascribes itself, generating endless laughs from a lively evening crowd, while also commenting on greater societal flaws. An improbable feat that MacArthur pulls off almost entirely.

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