Tom Roden and Pete Shenton have said that at the time of founding New Art Club, their friends mostly went to comedy clubs, so they figured that they'd have to perform in comedy clubs if they wanted their friends to see them. And so the phenomenon that is New Art Club was born. Apparently, as they told the audience tonight, the company was specifically set up to help Tom overcome a breakup, intended to be "experimental in nature with popular appeal". Which ended up as being "all of the funny stuff, none of the experimental stuff."
Big Bag Of Boom was launched last summer; after 14 years of New Art Club's existence, they realised that many of their new fans were unfamiliar with their earlier work - and in their own words, "they couldn't be arsed to do a new show".
Last November, New Art Club held a special performance at The Place for their '80s tribute show This Is Now, followed by an '80s disco and fancy dress competition. This evening's show also included a disco, and a very special guest in the guise of Phil Kay. And true to the title, the show did indeed start with a bang...
The first segment of the evening was the appearance by Phil Kay - "the Scottish Billy Connolly", as Tom and Pete described him. Phil managed to pack a lengthy routine into only 15 minutes, with a high-speed repartee whilst pretending not to dance, followed by an impromptu song about a pregnant woman in the audience, then a commentary on certain people's clothing while eyeing up other people to sing about. After much reluctance, he slowly left the stage - though not for long.
Audience participation was one of the key themes of the evening - despite Tom denouncing it as "shit", but actually it only consisted of the audience being told to close their eyes for a period of time so that Tom and Pete could rearrange the stage, change clothes, create snapshots.
What followed was an evening of cheesy improvised dance and brilliant comedy, and some moments you'll be hard-pressed to forget.
Apparently two pieces they were specifically asked not to perform were "The Girl With The Shitty Shoe" - dedicated to Pete's wife Cheryl - and "that IRA-style punishment beating routine". In "The Girl..." they managed to combine enough Irish step dancing, gypsy dancing and belly dancing that you started to wonder what was on the shoes of the people who originally conceived of those dances.... and as for the IRA-style song, not only was it performed to Kool & The Gang's 'Give It Up', but it proved that perhaps New Art Club audiences are the only people who can have guns pointed at them yet continue to laugh helplessly.
My personal favourite is Tom Roden's rendition of 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'. I'd even asked them if they'd be performing it; their response was "we surely will be using it on Friday. We will, as always, be living in a powder keg and giving off sparks." As he tells it, the first time he fell in love was with his French teacher, Miss Horton. Unable to express his feelings for her in French, he decided to use the language of dance instead - which he could also use towards his O-level Dance coursework. What followed was several minutes of embarrassingly earnest basic dance sequences - although we did miss out on Tom miming 'I Love You' at the end of the dance. What's certain, though, is that nobody in the audience will be able to listen to 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' with a straight face again. Ever.
New Art Club are hard to define, and that's a large part of their magic. They're hysterically funny - in a very sardonic and deadpan sense - but they're not a comedy duo. They're established dancers and choreographers, but what they perform really isn't what you'd expect from a dance company. Instead, dance and movement are used almost as props, accompanying their brilliant comedic timing and personalities. The result is, quite frankly, one of the most entertaining nights you'll have - but leave the kids at home.
The evening concluded with Tom and Pete subliminally pitching for five star reviews, and then with Tom quoting from a recent conversation he'd had with a journalist. "If there's anything the audience can take away from your show, what would you like it to be?"