★★★★ Ugly Chief at the Battersea Arts Centre
Battersea Arts Centre
31 October – 18 November | 7:30pm | £12.50 – £17.50
A poignant exploration of a father-daughter relationship, disguised as a comedy about attending your own funeral.
Victoria Melody returns to the Battersea Arts Centre – where To Do List first encountered her performing with her basset hound Major Tom back in 2012 – with brand new show Ugly Chief, this time with father Mike Melody at her side.
The premise is instantly engaging: Mike was incorrectly diagnosed with a terminal illness and, thinking he had only a few years to live, asked his daughter to plan the ideal funeral for him. Of course, Victoria immediately set off to train as a Funeral Director (her CV already lists pigeon racer, Northern Soul dancer, champion dog handler and beauty queen).
Thankfully, Mike – who you may recognise from TV antiques shows including Dickinson’s Real Deal – eventually received a correct, non-terminal diagnosis, and subsequently agreed to appear on stage with Victoria to tell the tale. What becomes clear, however, is that each of them has a different idea of what the show should really be about.
Ranging from downright funereal hilarity to deeply touching home-truths about their relationship, via eye-opening insights into the workings of a mortuary and an odd-couple research trip to New Orleans, Ugly Chief covers a lot of territory but never feels scattershot. Making full use of a well-paced two hour duration (with interval), Melody has crafted an intricately woven yet charmingly ramshackle piece which defies categorisation. She tells the audience that she wanted to make a comedy – and there is no shortage of laughs – but there is emotional depth and several particularly touching moments.
On occasion – perhaps inevitably for a show which is, presumably, intended to feel like it is unraveling and reconstructing itself in front of the audience each night – the momentum slips, or an exchange between Mike and Victoria feels slightly forced. But these moments are few, and in any case contribute to the feeling of authenticity which pervades.
A special mention should also go to the musicians Gemma Storr, Kieran Rafferty, Steve Pretty and James Gow, who appear on stage and provide accompanying music throughout. Their contribution – under the direction of Tom Parkinson – lends a cheeky humour and endearing feeling of all-togetherness, which neatly sums up Ugly Chief.
Warm-hearted, thought-provoking, honest and hilarious, Ugly Chief is a special show -see it!