Ugly Chief at Battersea Arts Centre
Performance artist and comedienne Victoria Melody’s Ugly Chief – translation of the surname “Melody” in Gaelic – is a raucous, funny, very personal show about her relationship with her father, well-known TV antiques dealer Mike Melody. As Mike was diagnosed with a fatal illness, they had planned a funeral for him. Strapped for cash, Victoria decided to train as a mortician. Later it was discovered that Mike’s doctors had misdiagnosed him and he wasn’t dying after all. However, the two decided to go ahead with the ceremony anyway, as a living memorial, hence the creation of Ugly Chief as a spoof thereof.
Through much of the performance the audience is educated on the ins and outs of funerals and the work of an undertaker, from questionnaires for clients regarding caskets presented like holiday homes in various styles, including a very posh, furry coffin for £90,000 – and every possible type of ceremony – to the gruesome details of cremating bodies, which Victoria clearly finds to be exhilarating.
With playful father/daughter bickering, an argument ensues about memorial styles, and her dad insists that as co-producer of the production he should have equal say. Therefore, the second act is devoted to Mike’s vision of his ideal funeral: a beer barrel as a casket, a barbecue pit setting, and everyone wearing his favourite sports uniform.
The third player in this piece is the jazz ensemble; initially opening as a New Orleans brass band, the musicians prove to be excellent and quite versatile, playing Mike’s favourite tunes as well as background instrumentals and vocals for a mock burial service.
Britain’s humour is unique, and priceless at its best. It also varies according to cultural context. Whether a foreigner’s picture of British stereotypes is the Royals, Hugh Grant and the National Gallery, or pub culture and EastEnders, there are unifying underlying themes to English comedy: eccentricity, embracing the underdog, sarcasm and irony, deadpan delivery and self-depreciation – via methods like blundering encounters, embarrassing moments, and highlighting of flaws and clumsiness. Ugly Chief incorporates these elements, but is also an innovative genre of English witticism – and you either get it or you don’t. With a likely appeal for many locals, it might possibly leave some foreigners and newcomers slightly baffled. Regardless, it is a very creative, unusual piece that will induce some laughs in even the most nonplussed of viewers.
Ugly Chief is at Battersea Arts Centre from 31st October until 18th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Battersea Arts Centre website here.