Wobbly cell block is strictly for the fan club

First Night: Prisoner Cell Block H - The Musical
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The Independent Online
Liverpudlian comedy drag act Lily Savage comes on stage at the Queen's Theatre, London, in blue prison denim dungarees, regulation yellow blouse and a blue ribbon in her/his permed haystack hair.

"I look like one of the Waltons at an acid house party," she says, before asking the warder for a power point for her rollers.

Imprisoned for the twin crimes of murdering her sister and stealing a fondue set, Savage was to be at the mercy of a body-searching lesbian warder (played with demonic vigour by Maggie Kirkpatrick), tattooed, pom- hating Australian inmates and scenery that threatened to collapse at the slightest touch.

The latest cult has arrived in the West End, hoping to carry on where the Rocky Horror Show left off, with an audience familiar with every line, cheering and booing characters and whooping with joy at the deliberately bad acting.

In fact, the audience was a show in itself. Prisoner Cell Block H is a terrible Australian TV soap about a women's prison, broadcast late at night, which has won a large following because of its low-budget production values, awful scripts, wobbly sets and dreadful costumes.

The tackiness was faithfully reproduced for this first musical version. Walls wobbled, punches failed to connect, lines overlapped. Even the tunes were unmemorable, though whether this was part of the pervading irony or not was hard to say.

For the audience, it was bliss. Beverly Callender, 33, from Sheffield, said she watched the television series every week. Last night she was sporting perspex ultra-violet jewellerythrough her lower lip.

She said that because of its humour, the show "undoubtedly attracted a massive gay following".

And Toni McCreanny, 24, from Brighton, Sussex, said: "I love it because it's tacky, it has bad scripts and bad sex. It's great entertainment."

They mingled in the foyer with a celebrity audience that included Sir Andrew and Lady Lloyd Webber and Terence Conran, the mix adding to the eccentricity of the evening.

It was a show that gave the lie to accusations that the West End has become unpredictable.

But like all cult shows, this overt exercise in kitsch was hysterical if you were an honorary member of the cult, but only faintly amusing for the rest of us.

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