Family entertainment stars reprising their best moments at the Fringe can work brilliantly. Dick and Dom (of all people) illustrated this last year with a show that mixed the old and the new to such satisfaction. Basil Brush unfortunately cannot do the same, with a show that is strangely dated and unsurprising.
Basil’s onstage entry is very satisfying. From there onwards, however, Unleashed tries and fails to make a TV format work on stage. With the cheesy, aged tackiness of a Saturday night game show, it is hardly aiming for high-calibre humour. The jokes – that feel like they have come right out of a corporate script room – resort to the occasionally good pun and one too many divisive punchlines. Not helping is the Brush repeatedly saying that they know they are ‘un-PC’ and just want to have fun, as if those two things are opposites. When not being edgy, Basil is getting crowd members involved in daft games that can keep the audience happy but don’t possess the inventiveness and charisma that has fuelled his 50-year career. The format and approach of the show too often feels like a let down.
Basil’s expressiveness still manages to crack the audience up, and a few moments of chemistry with his assistant do get a good laugh from the crowd. Yet it all just feels a bit superficial, reliving former glories for an audience drawn in by the nostalgia. There is not even that much unleashed about it. If anything, it feels a little bit tame, satisfied with suggestive innuendos and the odd political jibe. Basil even seems to struggle when trying to nail his famous catchphrase. If you did come to experience a star of children’s TV in the flesh, his trademark boom-boom will sound a bit off from what you remember.
Any high expectations are not really met. Audience participation helps to pick things up a notch, but the predictable pie in the face routine is given no spin that you can’t already guess in advance. Unleashed steams ahead with the star-powered confidence that fuels your standard light entertainment programme, blindly believing in Basil’s animal magnetism to pull it through. Perhaps it will work for some, but this falls far short of what could have been.