‘Overly reliant on knob gags’ is not a criticism that fans of avant-garde comedian Kim Noble might expect to be levelled at one of his shows. But during ‘Lullaby for Scavengers’ we get to see Noble’s special bits on the big screen at the back of the stage more often than anyone might want: tied to a string, the other end of which is tied to a chicken carcass; attached to a hoover; having a live maggot inserted into the urethral opening. After a while, you start to miss it when it’s not popping up. Noble lives to shock: visually, ethically, legally. But the best parts of the hour-and-something of ‘Lullaby for Scavengers’ are when he unclenches and lets the questions raised by all the carefully induced ick have some breathing space.
There’s a fantastically orchestrated segment where he gets a job as an office cleaner and secretly films himself. His attempts to engage with the staff are met with barely veiled hostility. They don’t know that Noble is sleeping under their desks at night and wandering around the workplace naked after hours. I won’t spoil the dénouement, but it’s quite something. And, crucially, would we behave any differently to them?
In another theme, he attempts to commune with London’s foxes (some of the scavengers of the title), camping out near their earth and daubing himself in a scent made from female fox shit to blend in (something that apparently is quite successful). And it is a remarkable piece of narrativisation to link an animated squirrel corpse operating a midi controller to footage of your father on his deathbed.
But while nothing is off-limits to Noble, too often that freedom from boundaries just leads to basically unfunny gross-outs. Sure, he namechecks Pina Bausch and Joseph Beuys, but is that supposed to make him sitting in a bath of squirming maggots somehow better than a Bushtucker Trial? I’m generally as happy as the next man to have my intellectual ego massaged, but being made to feel that I’m part of a specially selected audience of sophisticates who have to find humour in this material as they see fit isn’t enough to sustain 80 minutes. I want some jokes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad that this show is on a proper stage in a proper theatre in the West End for three weeks. It gives me hope for us all. It’s just that the bits of ‘Lullaby for Scavengers’ that I found distasteful and uncomfortable are almost certainly not the ones that Kim Noble intended.