Back in 1985, small film production house Troma Films deviated from their usual output of teen comedies to make a horror movie spoof so thrillingly tacky that it became an instant cult hit that spawned a franchise of three more films.
The original film on which this show is based is a simple, superhero morality tale about standing up for what’s right and being true to who you are all wrapped around a story of unrequited love.
Not that the show’s author Joe DiPietro (Tony winner for Memphis) allows any soppy messages or New-Age philosophising to get in the way of what is a gloriously bonkers, day-glow riot of a show that stays true to its B-movie heritage and is backed up by an infectious rock anthem score by Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan that’s full of witty lyrics.
In the New Jersey town of Tromaville, local nerd Melvin (Mark Anderson) struggles to express his love for blind librarian Sarah (Emma Salvo). But matters of the environment are also troubling Melvin because the town is being used as a dumping ground for toxic waste produced by the rich folks across the river in Manhattan. All this providing a nice little backhander for the corrupt mayor (Natalie Hope).
Melvin’s efforts to protect his town prove fruitless, however, until he is dropped into a giant vat of the insidious gunge and is transformed into the indestructible mutant superhero of the title who becomes determined to rid Tromaville of the polluters, and hopefully win the heart of Sarah along the way.
No superhero of horror movie cliché is left unturned as this hilarious show rattles along at a frenetic pace, with the torrent of gags, both spoken and physical, deliciously pushing the envelope of bad taste more and more.
Just occasionally the chaos threatens to get the better of the comedy, but the hugely talented cast always manage to keep things in control by stepping into Noises Off/Play That Goes Wrong territory and getting mileage out of gags around having a blind person in the cast and the frantic costume changes faced when playing multiple characters. None more so than the double act of Ché Francis and Oscar Conlon-Morrey; I frankly lost count of the number of characters both male and female they constantly switched between.
It’s impossible to be offended by The Toxic Avenger because it’s all carried off with such affection and can’t fail to leave you with a smile on your face. It’s a shot in the arm for West End Theatre and like the movie, has cult hit written allover it.
Next up for the writing team is a musical about Princess Diana. The mind boggles.
Photograph by Irina Chira
The Toxic Avenger: the Musical is at the Arts Theatre until 3 December