If you’d been outside the Sea Life Centre at 1pm last Saturday afternoon, you’d have spotted a posse of oddly-dressed Fringe-goers clustered on a balcony. Below them, a man in a bright orange jacket shouted encouragement at a blow-up doll. In a wonderful piece of happenstance, a coach pulled into the lay-by just as the scene reached its climax; the Czech tourists disgorged by the bus stared with open mouths. Welcome to Brighton. It’s a slightly peculiar place.
And this theatrical promenade celebrates all that’s weird about the city – starting with its two instantly-loveable tour guides, Lesley (“with a Y!”) and Leslie (“with an E!”) Aided by a pair of shopping trolleys and a large number of rubber ducks, the two L’s deliver a warm-hearted sideways look at Brighton’s past and present – all the time maintaining delightful personas of their own. The earnestly solicitous Leslie gathers us in a circle to explain how to wait for the green man, while the moderately dashing Lesley hams things up at every opportunity, whether he’s playing an ill-fated sea captain or teaching us the rules of a notorious Brighton game.
There’s enough variety along the way to keep things fresh and surprising: whenever you think you’ve got the measure of what’s happening next, you’ll find you need to guess again. One scene sees our hosts dancing down the middle of the road, then in the next moment, we’re searching for rubber ducks in an (admittedly straightforward) scavenger hunt. There’s a wonderful reconstruction of a Victorian disaster, and a touching remembrance of a stuntman who, at the age of 90, still wanted the show to go on.
Crucially for any promenade piece, it’s both impeccably well-planned and exquisitely well-designed. The boring bit of most walking-tour shows is the journey from place to place; here, they elegantly deal with the gaps between scenes by giving you a recorded commentary to listen to along the way. Lesley and Leslie’s view of what matters about Brighton is a predictably idiosyncratic one… so while you do hear the story of the George IV’s Pavilion, there’s also a section dedicated to modern local legends such as Drako and Boogaloo Stu.
There are some fine comic set-pieces, which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling, but my favourite parts of the tour were lower-key and improvised. From time to time, our hosts point out somebody going about their daily business – and conspiratorially suggest an eccentric thing they might secretly be doing instead. It’s all done respectfully and lovingly, and it ties in nicely to the show’s key message: that we each have something unconventional within us, and we should let it out in our daily lives.
At the end, perhaps inevitably, you’ll be asked to participate in an eccentric activity of your own – not one that’s in any way outrageous, but something you wouldn’t normally do with people looking on. And the true magic of this near-unique show is that everybody joins in: somehow, when Lesley and Leslie are around, having harmless fun in public seems perfectly OK. Psychologically, this show is a masterpiece, and creatively, it’s full of joy. Don’t miss it.