As I walk into the hall half an hour early (for the first time in my life!) to see Fol Espoir's 'American Servicemen in Britain', I am just as unreasonably excited as I was the first two times I saw this show! This time Fol Espoir joins Arts Alive for its final rural touring round before they head off to the bright lights of New York, so this sell out show was very much a catch them while you still can event.
The show follows a group of American Servicemen who have just been posted to the sleepy English village of Nether Middleton and must learn the weird and wonderful ways of the British, from food to conversation to currency and everywhere in between! With a healthy dose of audience participation/random victimisation that I love so much, we become the servicemen and the actors our commanding officers, setting the scene for some really uproarious scenarios (think random elderly husbands in the audience being given back their dog tags from his escapades with the blacksmiths daughter). One of the best parts of the show for me is the ability of the actors to bounce off the audience in a way that only rural touring really allows, making the show different and fresh every time (trust me!).
The servicemen get up to all sorts of mischief, from spiking the vicars prize marrow on top of the church steeple to driving over the village green, and the show manages to strike a perfect balance between honouring British traditions whilst also taking the mick out of them completely. Another of my favourite sketches comes when the actors switch up completely and use puppets to imitate Nazis (see photo!) that are training to become British spies. Their wit is razor sharp and the comic timing combined with use of the puppets really elevates this sketch, whilst also keeping that deprecating British sense of humour that makes this show so relevant to people of all ages. In the pursuit of keeping my review balanced, I will say that there is a sketch explaining the old British monetary system that went way over my head, but it had me concerned that some of the older members of the audience may actually wee themselves with laughter, so I'm sure this was an age difference thing rather than a performance issue (I really did try and find a negative thing!)
This shows never ceases to amaze me by how it can take any quiet, withdrawn audience and by the end have everyone up on their feet singing along to jazz music and morris dancing together, (Yes really, with hankies and everything!) American Servicemen is a hilarious, heart-warming and very clever show that helps us laugh at our differences yet brings everyone so much closer together. It is one of my favourite shows of all time (and I've seen a lot) and I can never give them enough standing ovations. Now please excuse me while I go and look up flights to New York for round 4......