Chris Burgess’ Skin Deep at Gilded Balloon is a campy tits-and-teeth musical revue which takes on the gnarly subject of body image in a series of songs and sketches, blending witty lyrics and music with up-beat linking text and burlesque-style nudity to put its point over.
While this is a really good show with imaginative musical numbers and an exuberant cast, it could have been so, so much better. Burgess’ libretto sparkles in its songs, however the linking dialogue in between could have come from a school education video. It’s also somewhat hard to believe that this cast of buff and polished males would ever have suffered from body image problems despite lines like “I used to just eat jelly babies and I ended up looking like one” . In fact, the only cast member to be truly convincing is the beautiful Shani Cantor who at least has some curves and – despite her good looks – is believable as someone who may have suffered from body image issues in today’s weight-conscious climate.
Essentially, though, the show lacks bite. Whereas the use of musical numbers to highlight a serious subject is reminiscent of late twentieth-century political theatre companies like 7:84 or Wildcat, the acerbic wit and social indignation of writers like John McGrath is missing here. Had it been present, the dialogue would have added so much more to the show’s impact.
This is an innovative show and – to its credit – uses a male chorus for its nude scenes instead of the usual smörgåsbord of female nudity so beloved of ‘alternative’ producers. Nevertheless, while the songs and dance numbers are punchy and well written and performed, it all comes off as just a little too soft in its message.