Theatre: A pack of porky pies

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The Independent Culture
I DIDN'T inherit much from my grandmother: a small plaster statue of the Holy Family, a stuffed koala bear and her recipe for Baked Alaska. Yet somehow, by the age of five, I had already absorbed the one truly valuable thing that she possessed - her unwavering belief in the guiding motto: never spoil a good story by sticking to the truth.

Tell a lie? Never. Why be economical with the truth, when you can be lavish? Shun mendacity, my child, but never miss an opportunity to enhance, embellish and embroider.

Not everyone, however, shares these same high principles. Shocking to tell, there are those who'll drop a falsehood quicker than you can say, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman". And these rapscallion pseudologists actually line up every year to fib it out in Britain's Grand National Lying Contest.

"Tonight's event has been cancelled," yells the doorkeeper, shooing the queue towards the box office. "Buy your tickets here, for tonight's cancelled event!" Rather than a gathering of lawyers and boy-band managers, the eighth annual Lying Contest is the province of the aromatherapeutically- massaged community of traditional storytellers. In a darkened room upstairs at the Spitz, in rapidly-gentrifying Spitalfields Market, the contest is hosted by the Crick Crack Club, as part of their dedicated mission to revive the public art of telling fairy tales for grown-ups.

More often engaged in serious delvings into the legends of Gilgamesh, Beowulf and the Kalevala, tonight the Crick Crackers loosen their appliqued Nepalese collars and compete for a pink-silk purse containing pounds 100 in shiny pounds 2 coins and a battered silver "Cup of Hogwash and Baloney".

Three judges take to their positions, heavily disguised as Imelda Marcos, illusionist David Copperfield, and the pig-tailed Swedish sea-captain's daughter Pippi Longstocking. Holding aloft numbered placards, this trio evaluate the contestants on "content of lie", "delivery of lie", and "audience response".

Her name drawn from a shoe, the first contestant is June Peters, a teacherly middle-aged white woman dressed in a loud green Ghanaian suit. A touch over-eager, she scurries back and forth, whipping her hat on and off, to assume dual voices in a gabbling Mesopotamian master-slave dialogue. It is all rather stagey, and doesn't exactly have anything to do with telling porkies.

Michael Dacre, with cream loon pants, a lilac and aubergine suede patchwork waistcoat and a medieval haircut, rambles on about "the second coming", about the premature ejaculation of the false millennium.

Rhona Topaz, a slightly nervous, curvy woman in black T-shirt and leggings, tells of her long-running attempt to seduce Stephen Fry (which seems more on the right track to me - but is savagely scorned by the judges).

Susannah Steele suddenly raises the standard, channelling her Antrim grandmother, who was "twice the size of any woman half as big". She unleashes an amiable stream of blarney about horns on foreheads, and the uses of natural remedies such as mouse-oil, turkey treacle and giblets from a wild dishcloth.

"There isn't very much real lying going on," mutters Simon, the chap in the black suit sitting next to me, at the interval. "I feel like a little bit of mischief - what do you reckon, shall I have a go?"

"Go on," encourages Tim, another first-time audience member. "I was hoping for some really inane bullshit." With that, random audience members begin to declare their candidacy.

Xanthe Gresham, in severe trendy glasses, recalls some highly plausible playground trauma about snapped knicker elastic. Arms and legs extended in geometric chaos, Xanthe reads passages of Ken Campbell and Tibetan Buddhist theory to back up her claims that invisibility is possible "by adopting a bizarrely unalarming posture which by-passes the muscles of the human eye".

Liverpudlian professional storyteller, Cat Wetherill, a willowy temptress in cobwebby mohair, caresses herself with black-painted fingertips, breathlessly evoking an erotic bath-time apparition by a veiled goddess. Simon Miles rises from my side, wild eyes staring, to speak spontaneously of the pain of telling loved ones the secrets of your soul, only to be cruelly disbelieved. "Do you have a teddy?" he implores a nine-year-old girl, who tells him about her bear, Barley. "Well apart from Barley, who's special," he rasps, "all those teddies and other inanimate objects you have loved, have never loved you back."

Out pours a hilariously heart-rending account of his father's absences, and his mother's passion for an oak tree. "In all the ways that really matter," he cries, "that tree was my father." After years of sexual inadequacy, Simon finally found love with a girl called Theresa, who could turn him on with knock-knock jokes in bed: "Who's there? Theresa Who? Trees are glorious, wild and sexy, their long branches waving and reaching into the sky..." he moans, amidst tumultuous applause.

All done, Susannah Steele is judged to have won, with Simon Miles a close second, winning a monstrous, yet apt booby prize of a pair of brass froglets swinging from a tree.

To enter next year's lying contest, write to the Crick Crack Club, Marley Bank, Whitbourne, Worcs WR6 5RU.