Never Try This At Home

Theatre , Drama
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© Manuel Harlan

'Never Try This At Home'

© Manuel Harlan

'Never Try This At Home'

© Manuel Harlan

'Never Try This At Home'

After years of onscreen abuse from her co-presenters on ‘Shushi’ – an anarchic ’70s Saturday morning show not unlike ‘Tiswas’ –  kids TV presenter Petra Massey has finally snapped, stripped to her underwear and covered herself in baked beans, before threatening to hang herself live on air. ‘Something for dads,’ she yells down camera two. Massey is live and kicking the bucket.

Today, Niall Ashdown is remembering that fateful final episode of ‘Shushi’ – the day the slop stopped slopping – as part of a reunion-style reality show called ‘Looking Back Together’. He’s got clips of ‘Shushi’s regular items – Kick a Vicar, spoof ballerina Rudolf Nearenough, the endless custard pies – plus evidence of its ample latent racism and sexism. What’s more, he’s tracked down the stars, 35 years on, to take them to task.

The point, of course, is that television today is no less exploitative than it was then, merely more aware of the cameras. If anything, it’s more dishonest. Power still rests with producers and presenters, who can decide narratives in advance and edit footage in post-production. The past makes easy prey; present-tense problems, less so. It’s a sharp moral, albeit scrappily handled.
But, mostly, the whole thing’s just a hoot and, improvising around Carl Grose’s script, Told By An Idiot milk the ingenious set-up for all its fun. They make their own mythologies and spin nostalgia from nothing with insistent catchphrases, invented histories and fake cultural icons. The dual TV-show format finds its own rules: fast-forwarding, losing its soundtrack or dishing up flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. Sometimes, you long for a bit of distillation and concentration, but the raucous E-number energy is totally infectious and it pays dividends with some really daring moments like re-enacted unreconstructed racism. All of which makes ‘Never Try This at Home’ a blast about the past.

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