The Barbican Centre
with Christopher Green, Godslove Mensa, Mark Raffles and Jessica Robinson
'Chris Green might not be the hardest working man in comedy but he is no slouch. As well as creating cowgirl Tina C, he has now resuscitated his old — in every sense — character Ida Barr. This spangly-frocked dubstep cousin of Hinge & Bracket is a veteran music hall icon who also throws down phat beats, hence a reputation as prime purveyor of “artificial hip hop”. After a dramatic entrance on the fastest mobility scooter in the West, Barr’s yuletide variety special chugs along nicely. High points include versatile vocal gymnast Jess Robinson and genuine octogenarian Mark Raffles, a creaky Tommy Cooper of the metal hoop, plus Barr brilliantly reworking rap classics. Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On becomes the more age‑appropriate Get Your Coat On. There are poignant touches, but Green’s alter ego mainly mines a rich seam of knowing dotty humour –—forget Facebook, Ida’s favourite networking site is Pensionbook. And when the gags run out the party atmosphere takes over. With an interactive finale including musical chairs, the hokey-cokey and a shambolic conga, the evening is no artistic landmark but it certainly gets the festive juices flowing. '
'What a surprisingly old-fashioned variety show. Pitched halfway between the music-hall nostalgia of The Good Old Days and a more ironic piss-take, Chris Green’s fifth Barbican Christmas offering works best when its tongue is out of its cheek, offering uncomplicated festive cheer. His character of Ida Barr is an aging Cock-er-ney sparrow, trying to relive her glory days as a mid-bill turn at the Moss Empires while keeping up with today’s East London youth, never asking a question when she could arks it instead, innit? Her stock in trade is to rap her OAP complaints over a contemporary beat – artificial hip-hop, as she calls it – and to that end, the new Lily Allen/Kate Nash style of Mockney music has been a godsend. After establishing this, the utterly convincing Green gives us the menu of the evening’s entertainment: with a winsome stage-school singer-songer-dancer-actress and an end-of-the-peer magic turn, 70 years in the business. We’re prepared for a spoof; comedy caricatures poking fun at the desperation of entertainers from both ends of the spectrum. But blow me if they’re not the real thing… and both of them threaten to steal the show. After a brief bit of business, the engaging Jess Robinson belts out an impressive medley of songs, faultlessly impersonating everyone from Kate Bush to Amy Winehouse; an act that you might think wouldn’t be out of place on a cheesy talent show. But her talent and showmanship is stunning, and easily wins you over. Expect her to be starring in some West End musical before too long. Then there’s conjurer Mark Raffles, who comes out with the always tedious interlocking rings illusion. But just as you start to switch off he reveals his trick: an hilarious Cooperesque incompetence (with a small nod to Maxwell Smart) that becomes a ridiculously brilliant bit of physical comedy. Shows like X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, not to mention alternative cabaret shows such as La Clique, have unlocked a long-overlooked demand for classic variety done well – and Green, clearly a fan of the genre himself, has astutely tapped into that. Not only do we get these turns, but the whole evening harks back to simpler entertainment, perhaps befitting these recessionary times. The audience join in with a Christmas singalong, do the Hokey Cokey and the conga, and witness a round of musical chairs that turns eve the most reluctant audience participant onto a fiercely competitive combatant. Party games? Kids’ dances? Octogenarian magic acts? Is this really the festive offering from a prestigious venue known for its artistic risk-taking? Well, yes it is – and what a great knees-up it is. As Barr, Green conducts the frivolity with skill, merrily bantering with the front row, spreading the seasonal jollity and battering down the inhibitions. Zipping in on a motorised scooter sets the energy levels high from the start, and he always conducts the crowd like an experienced game-show host. His own set pieces don’t sparkle quite so much. The rap numbers are pleasantly enjoyable, but little to get excited by, and his repertoire of unashamedly old jokes and creaky puns are still poor, however much charm he wraps them up in. But he’s had the good sense to share the limelight, and in this show concentrates most of his considerable efforts on making sure the audience simply has a laugh, taking nothing too seriously. And if you can’t do that at Christmas, when can you?'
'Who, you might well ask, is Ida Barr? A towering vision in glittery grey with a slight humpback (“My lovely lady hump,” she calls it) and a swollen ankle, hence the wearing of just one silvery heeled shoe. This former music-hall stalwart turned “purveyor of artificial-hip-hop” is the onstage alter ego of Christopher Green, the British cabaret performer and writer also responsible for Tina C, a low-rent country and western legend whose songs, opinions and exploits can sometimes be heard on Radio 4. Green's previous end-of-year Barbican ventures include the Olivier-winning C'est Barbican, Tina C's I'm Dreaming of a White Trash Xmas and last year's audience- participation extravaganza, Office Party. This year the venue gave him a green light to devise a seasonal show around the geriatric charms of the experienced Miss Ida, plus, as guests, the vocalist-comedian Jess Robinson (whose hysterical take-offs on Britney, Amy and Kate Bush are worth a look and a listen) and, pricelessly, the veteran magician Mark Raffles, with the laid-back DJ Godslove Mensah on the turntables. Why the latter device? Ida's schtick is that she has reinvented herself by appropriating contemporary urban rhythms into her act, complete with serpentine body language. Thus, instead of being treated to renditions of long-ago hits such as I Had a Little Thrush But Now It's Gone Away, we get new numbers in the style of Missy Elliott (Get Your Coat On), Estelle or Eminem. The beats per minute, the tough old dear informs us, have all been aligned with her blood pressure readings. Having previously caught Ida in a five-minute guest spot, I had wondered how this Dame Edna-esque character might fare when stretched out over 90 headlining minutes. I needn't have worried. Ida might sound like a one-trick pony, but Green is so in control of his creation that I was willing to go along for the ride. A born ad-libber, he has a dart-like knack for dodgy puns, sly political references and withering asides. The temptation is strong here to simply regurgitate Ida's best one-liners, among them her blessed mother's advice: “Be a can person; don't be a can't.” As directed by the savvy Cal McCrystal, the evening exudes pleny of mock daytime chat show cosiness, with ample opportunity for silly audience singalongs, a highly amusing game of musical chairs and a hokey-cokey that degenerates into a shambolic conga line. The one false note is a self-sentimentalising song in which Ida waxes lovelorn, but the effect is hardly fatal. This wrinkled, winking trouper has, as they say in the business, got legs.'
'Old time music hall star Ida Barr plays host on an evening of good old-fashioned variety entertainment. Since music hall has all but died out, Miss Barr has embraced hip-hop and rap music and seamlessly blended urban house with some classic oldies.Christopher Green’s creation, decked out in the fading finery of a lost variety hall, is an affectionate pastiche of two disparate cultures. Performing as part of Ida’s posse is Godslove Mensah, mixing some wicked sounds on the decks, and Jess Robinson, trilling an effective harmony against Barr’s vocals. Traditionalists amongst you will be glad to know that veteran magician Mark Raffles brings some exquisitely comic routines to the line-up and that bingo has been replaced by a festive round of musical chairs. Thankfully the comedy is not totally unrelenting and there is a poignancy surrounding both the lyrics and the arrangement of the later musical numbers. Ida Barr is effectively a one-joke show but it is extremely well told, with a punch-line that is neither crude nor offensive. At 75 minutes it drags a little but this will probably tighten up as the run progresses. If there is one thing that doesn’t work it is Alex Craig’s set design, which fails to compliment the style of the show and lights decidedly badly. '