“Surrealler than waking up in a Magritte painting, finding time’s gone all transfixed, and that while the street outside is dark, overhead there’s broad sunshine.”
“I’m really not a fan of Munch, he’s no Peder Mønsted or Anders Zorn…” …is what I would have said if I’d been a clued-up member of the ‘Painters From the North’ Facebook group back in the day. What I actually said was even more dismissive. I was young and hadn’t learned then that one needs a Fringe reviewer’s pass, and/or to have been elected to political office before one can go around inflicting half-baked subjectivity on strangers. The naval-gazing nightmare that is a full-blown Twatter addiction wasn’t a thing then. There followed an awkward silence. Minions from the University’s Comms and Marketing Office weren’t supposed to talk. The other occupants of the black cab – which was then working its way passed the Scottish National Gallery and up The Mound – looked uncomfortably at one another and then at the guest of honour. Sue Prideaux author of ‘Edvard Munch: Behind The Scream’ said nothing for the rest of the journey on her way to collect her James Tait Black Prize for Biography. I still think Munch is overrated BTW, in that way that all artists who aren’t Edwin Landseer tend to be.
We enter to find one of the most elaborate and exciting sets this Bedfringe, inhabited by Agents Dali (Paul Lawless) & Kahlo (Gill Simmons) from the Company of International Artists. The CIA exists to solve mysteries. What follows is a playable art-heist adventure theatre show that’s surrealler than waking up in a Magritte painting, finding time’s gone all transfixed, and that while the street outside is dark, overhead there’s broad sunshine. We are taken on an international journey, collecting clues and trying to track down Munch’s most celebrated painting ‘The Scream’ which has gone walkabouts. BTW describing ‘The Scream’ as Munch’s most celebrated painting is like describing Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’ as his most celebrated piece of music – what else has he done that anyone can remember off hand?
Accompanying the elaborate set are some BIG, bold costumes. A lot of choices have gone into this production, a lot of details and touches that add up to a massively impactful and majorly memorable entertainment. Here’s what Daughter 1.0 (7yrs) wrote in a letter to her Aunty – the one who works at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and with whom I’m not allowed to talk about painting and sculpture because, apparently, in that sphere of human activity I’m a “tasteless vulgarian”…
“Dear Aunty Chloe, We went to the Bedford Festival Fringe. And we saw the Munch Mishon! When we walked in we saw a phone that was shaped like a lobster and two boxses there was also some drawers and two windows and a sighn in the middlle. The Caracters were wering a long mostash for the man. And a lobster shirt. He must have loved lobsters. And for the other carecter a big tubon on her and a lepod sort of costume. The story was about a famouse artist “Munch” painting a picture of a scream. But the scream gose mising! You had some padles that you use to show what you want to happen next. We had to solve problems like when we fount an orange E or an A and all together it spelled something out. The Scream poped up in a lot of pictures. And it could talk. I loved it so much! Lots of love xxx”
For all that ‘The Munch Mission!’ is a larger-than-life production, its the big-hearted performances that make, bend, but never break the magic. The on-stage chemistry between Lawless and Simmons crackles with artistic energy. Together, they are the fuel in the tank that drives this garish behemoth to such outrageous heights of precision silliness. I’d have liked to have come away knowing more about Munch and if he ever painted anything that wasn’t ‘The Scream’ but for the audience at which this show is aimed, the pitch is damn near perfect.
Reviewer: Dan Lentell