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Review of Last Night A DJ Saved My Life at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

This year at the Royal & Derngate I have listened to the distant cry of the muffin man in the creepy Gaslight. Dvořák has resonated through my ears in the hands of Natalie Clein. I have seen landmark adaptions of Pinter and Huxley. I had made Kontakt with the talented Youth Company. The lyrical words of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac's have lingered in my thoughts.

Now I have seen David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff wheeled around on a sofa surrounded by a devil, a bishop, monstrous beasts and bikini clad women. Theatre is indeed a place of variety and dreams, even if sometimes they can be nightmares.

When you almost expect something to be bad you can put up your defences and prepare for the worst, and for Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, defences were set at 101%. Reviews had already been a little negative from it's opening run at Blackpool, however the evening was set to be a whole lot better than feared.

Set on Ibiza in the early nineties, Last Night is that relatively modern beast, a juke box musical. Indeed it is even written by Jon Conway who effectively created the genre in 1998 with Boogie Nights. Ross (David Hasselhof) is the club DJ who is unable to act his age and is unable to deal with the arrival of his daughter Penny (Stephanie Webber). He is also trying to keep his much younger girlfriend, Mandy (Kim Tiddy) under wraps from his daughter while also dealing with the baddie of the piece, Ebenezer (Barry Bloxham), so named no doibt for one of the best parts of the show. Also in the mix is holiday rep, Rik (Shane Richie Jr.) and bartender Jose (a star turn by Tam Ryan).

That's your cast and characters sorted and they meander around a relatively insubstantial plot, which honourably still tries to deal with the tough drugs message relating to the arrival of the "happy pill" extacy. This is a musical which frequently has nothing to offer when the music stops playing, but remains a strangely attractive beast to experience. You feel at times with their almost deliberate fails in delivering the script and the moments of interaction with the audience, that the cast know this is a load of rubbish and with this they make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable.

Writer (and director) Jon Conway may have been watching Fawlty Towers when he was writing the script as there are a few obviouse influences from this, especially with Ross' exchanges with bartender Jose and his lack of English skills. Much of the time is fails, sometimes it works well. The influence even sees the "I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it" Basil war comment get sledgehammered into an exchange that Ebenezer has about the wife of another character.

However this show isn't about the loose story and script around it, its about the music and much of this is superb (if you have an ear for late eighties and early eighties pop that is). All the classics are here, and Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up. Stephanie Webber, Kim Tiddy, Emily Penny and Natalie Amanda Gray provide a high power Unbreak My Heart while Tam Ryan provides an excellent Los del Rio's Macarena. Hasselhoff himself just about gets away with Barry Manilow's Even Now and Bryan Adam's Everything I Do. Yes the Germans are not wrong The Hoff can sing, even if due to a leg injury, he can barely walk. The very best music moment though comes from Bloxham and his performance of The Shamen's Ebeneezer Goode, without doubt a superb moment.

Yes there are many brilliant moments in this broken show. The already mentioned Hoff on the sofa interpretation of his drugs trip is one of those moments on stage I may never forget and that is a credit to the show. There is even clever inventiveness in this with the live use of a hat cam, with the front row of the audience finding themselves on the big screen.

It looks good as well thanks to excellent lighting and set work and has a hugely talented cast which deserves a better script. Much of the audience were lapping it up and I have my suspicions that there might have been a few non-regular theatre goers here drawn in by The Hoff and that is no bad thing as they might return, and almost certainly see something better. For myself and my company on the night, we have already seen better, often. However I cannot help but to recommend this most bad, but brilliantly bad show. Perhaps nowhere else will you get the chance to see giant beach balls being bashed around the Derngate auditorium and the audience being foamed.

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Performance reviewed: Friday 6th November, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life is on at Royal & Derngate until Saturday 7th November before continuing its tour. Details here: http://www.lastnightadj.com/

Details of Royal & Derngate can be found by visiting their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/





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