It’s almost too easy to evoke the iconic work of Cleese, Chapman, Idle and co when seeking a referencing point for the antics of very clever people being incredibly silly. However, sometimes there’s a show fizzing with such febrile energy and anarchic intelligence that it seems to squirm away from attempts at analysis, leading to a temptation just to throw up the hands in frustration, scribble “Python-esque,” and go and cry in a corner.
Of course, like most acts given that lazy label, it gives a very rough idea of what you’re watching, but really falls short. Elf Lyons and Ryan Lane have created something unquantifiable. A slice of theatre that isn’t really a play. There’s a plot, but also the strong influence of the pair’s background in clowning, frequent improvised tangents that may or may not have any bearing on the narrative at all, and a perfectly understandable obsession with Angela Lansbury.
The story, if it matters, concerns the meeting of two strangers on an allotment in Cricklewood. “Smith” (Lyons) is a man of many names, and alarming posture. Hilda (Lane) is a hapless tour guide from the former East Germany. There’s an instant connection between the two lonely people that may stem from them not being so unknown to each other as they thought.
Hilda & The Spectrum throws a great gumbo of cultural references, asides, in-jokes and general silliness at the wall to see what sticks. It’s with some degree of surprise to say that most of it does. A lot of the appeal is undoubtedly the joy of watching something that’s in constant evolution as two friends try and push each other to see who is going to crack first. This is the opening night, and it would be interesting to dip back in later in the run to see just what it’s turned into.
Hilda & The Spectrum may prove to be acquired taste. It’s undeniably self-indulgent; deliberately unpolished and unstructured, and is as likely to elicit mystification as mirth. Optimum appreciation will come from nothing else other than total surrender to its relentless torrent of Stephen King references, surreal dialogues, and Pete and Dud levels of unsuccessfully stifled corpsing. Those familiar with Elf Lyons’ standup (to which Lane makes a barbed reference) will recognise the obscure playfulness and the deft wit on display. No doubt many of the audience will have trotted directly across town afterwards to see her in Swan. In Lane she has a perfect foil who matches her in speed-of-thought and commitment to maximum silliness.
The kind of stupid that can only be presented by really bright people, Hilda & The Spectrum is giddy, joyous lunacy.