Paid Fantasist, Camden People’s Theatre

Image result for tom baker

by Maeve Campbell

There is so much to like about Biscuit and Field’s new show Paid Fantasist. Rebecca Biscuit (one half of Sh!t Theatre) and Nick Field are a charming, new double-act. They employ a fantastically kitsch science-fiction disco soundtrack, enviable gold lame and an impressive Kate Bush impression. The most intriguing thing, though, is the 1978 Times article at the centre of the piece, ‘A Life in the Day of Tom Baker.’

Biscuit and Field begin by simply reading this interview with the famous eccentric. They quote Baker’s existential musings and references to the strange fans and the forgotten seventies celebrities he encounters on a – very boozy – day out in Soho, a neighbourhood that Biscuit and Field claim has drastically changed since the article was published forty years ago. Its good source material, well worth a read, and the pair are smart in giving us the whole of it. What proceeds are scruffy vignettes, contributing to various stories that are part fiction, fact and autobiography, making up a love-letter to a Soho these performers aren’t old enough to have known.

The central metaphor of regeneration, that London has seen as many changes as the BBC’s beloved Doctor Who since Neo-Liberalism dominated British political ideology post Thatcher, is smart. It provides these ‘authentic’ artists with a mass of theatrical potential. The ghoulish (tall and thin) ladies that haunt Soho, based on centuries’ worth of written mythology, are ingeniously realised in projected videos of costumed Biscuit and Field spooking tourists and in zany live performance art sketches. One skit, hilariously illustrating trickle-down-economic theory, is the show’s stand-out moment.

Paid Fantasist isn’t without its problems, as Biscuit and Field seem to lose their nerve toward the end of a piece that promises a messiness it doesn’t quite deliver on. They also seem to get lost in their position on the gentrification of Soho when the work teeters into more autobiographical territory. The prescient musings of the tall, thin women in a fictionalised version of the Colony Room Club, a place referenced by Baker that’s now long gone, on the eve of the 1979 general election, is crudely constructed and doesn’t really serve the show’s politics.

There are the makings of a really great thing in this hour-long piece. It’s clear that Biscuit and Field have a glorious future together and hopefully Paid Fantasist will get the chance to regenerate into something bigger, bolder and more chaotic.

Paid Fantasist runs through 1 December.

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