between the lines

Snoo Wilson on schlock as unforgettable history
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The Independent Culture
Theatrically sublime moments are rare, although the first act of Ken Campbell's version of School for Clowns in London I remember as a chain reaction of sublimities. I went in glum, and left transfigured. Forty years on, I can also remember watching a sketch at the school review. A space monster (probably the English master in a gas mask) attempted to incubate other monsters by manipulating the eggs along with his monstrous partner. The eggs were boxing gloves, which the monsters batted between them fiercely with tennis racquets. Invention, comic horror, unorthodox reproduction, fused in a mystery that still feeds me.

But where other events hang back, the theatrical equivalents of gargoyles force themselves forward. Like Leni Riefenstahl's photography of fascist rallies, they are both dubious and engrossing: schlock as unforgettable history. Foremost in my memories is a moment in a gala of royal lookalikes who gave a "documentary" fantasised account of Lady Diana Spencer's induction into the royal family. This travesty happened many years ago at the Shaftesbury Theatre, but I can still hardly believe it. The country was swept up with royal mania, and factories in Taiwan were working round the clock turning out Charles and Diana memorabilia. The simpering royal thespians entered to a well-primed audience. Charles got not much applause, but then he didn't look very Charlesy. The Queen was closer to the mark. But then the old dear who did the Queen Mother appeared. She had the hat and coat down perfectly. The crowd went wild, applauding and shouting and hollering because she looked so much like the real thing. Reviewing my own nausea at this event, I suppose that the orgiastic accolade for the Queen Mum lookalike was an early indicator in our culture of an unquenchable hunger for false gods and false currency that underlay events in the Eighties as separate as Black Monday and the royal fallout.

n Snoo Wilson's play about Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, 'HRH', comes to the West End in the New Year

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