From The Great British Bake-Off and the Great Pottery Throw Down, to The Great British Sewing Bee and the upcoming Big Flower Fight, our screens seem to be constantly inundated with various different hobby competitions.
Just when you think TV producers have run out of creative pastimes to fit into a twee, tent-based contest format, along comes another programme which follows the exact same formula. Ten amateur [enter hobby here] spend eight weeks in some sort of marquee, competing to become Britain’s next best chef/baker/designer/potter whilst distracted by two presenters from a comedy background. Two industry professionals pick their creations apart over the course of three challenges, with the number of contestants being whittled down week after week.
At first glance, Channel 4’s Fantastical Factory of Curious Craft seems to fit this stereotype. However, upon closer inspection, the arts and crafts competition breaks out from its predecessors as a quirky, reinvention of the genre.
Fronted by Celebrity Juice’s Keith Lemon and Naked Attraction’s Anna Richardson, Fantastical Factory challenges four new crafters each week to create hand-made crafts of “epic proportions”. With each episode split into two rounds, the three crafters that impress factory boss Lemon the most are then commissioned to create something for a celebrity guest, who takes home the winning contestant’s creation.
On paper, potty-mouthed Lemon seems an odd fit for a family pre-watershed arts and crafts competition, but the comedian simply shines as the energetic and silly face of Fantastical Factory. Watching Lemon comfort a tearful crafter overwhelmed by the praise she receives, shows a different side to the late-night host, who still brings his trademark playfulness and cheek, but leaves the usual crassness that accompanies it on ITV2.
Co-presenter Anna Richardson counterbalances Lemon’s manic Willy Wonka-esque energy, with the calm confidence we usually see when she’s surrounded by naked bodies in colourful display cases. Joined by handmade jewellery royalty Harriet Vine MBE and crochet king Zak Khchai, who provide expert critiques, the four personalities create an on-screen chemistry despite their difference in character.
A standout cast member of the show however is Keith Lemon’s mum Pat, who acts as the factory tea lady. Apron-donning Pat, who spends the series pottering about her tea room, teasing her son and delivering hot drinks to the contestants, is a delightful addition to the competition and adds to the family-feel of the factory.
The colourful and wacky factory set itself warrants highlighting, with its oversized office supplies, streams of origami animals hanging from the ceiling and huge lava lamp tubes. What can only be described as a cross between the Art Attack and Blue Peter sets but on steroids, the factory, complete with a man in spandex with a timer for a head, does live up to its fantastical name.
As with any show of this type, it is the contestants that make it. Although four completely new crafters enter the factory each week, you get to know a condensed version of their back stories as they busily paint cardboard boxes or chip away at a wooden log.
A downside of the programme however is the broadness of what is considered to be a craft and the varied expertise of the contestants. For example, in the first episode you see a carpenter, a puppet-maker, an artist who works mainly with clay and a crafter who uses recycled plastic to create. It’s difficult to compare and judge which creation is the best when each one is wildly different, where at least with baking, you can easily pit eight types of sponge against each other and point to a winner.
That being said, with no prize to be won, there’s less emphasis on winning and more on the love for arts and crafts. When it comes to crowning the episode’s crafting champion, the duty falls on the subjective shoulders of the celebrity guest anyway, who decides which contestant delivered on their specifications the best. This does seem like the best way to approach a competition of this kind, especially since the celebrities, which include Eamonn Holmes, Katherine Ryan and Martin Kemp, will be taking home the winning creation.
Either way, Fantastical Factory makes for a comforting Sunday-night watch – providing a fun, quirky take on the competition format but staying true to the hearty family-feel of shows like it.
The Fantastical Factory of Curious Craft begins Sunday 10th May at 8pm on Channel 4. If you’re looking for more to watch check out our TV Guide.