Earlier on today apparently, a man tweeted @FringeGuru, and said he’d heard there was a great show about Michael Fish at the Dukebox. Well if you’re reading, don’t worry: there is. I didn’t get to experience Hurricane Michael quite as its creators intended – and the star rating reflects that – but I did enjoy a very silly, very clever hour of weather-related shenanigans, delivered with chutzpah by a personable and convincing actor. And most of all, I enjoyed an hour of delightfully wry nostalgia… embodied best by the giant old-style weather map which forms the backdrop to the stage.
In case you don’t know the story, Michael Fish is the BBC weather forecaster who famously announced that there wouldn’t be a hurricane, just before the Great Storm of 1987 battered the UK. Hurricane Michael starts with that notorious moment, but quickly diverges onto an entertainingly overblown conspiracy theory – casting Fish as a Svengali-like figure, able to predict far more than meteorology. Along the way you’ll hear a hilarious deconstruction of Fish’s TV-personality colleagues, attend a masterclass in map-pointing, and enjoy a brief gallop through the history of the 1980’s. It’s all viewed, of course, through the rainbow prism of the weather news.
Actor Russell Layton doesn’t exactly impersonate Fish, but there’s an essential likeness there: the unruly hair, the over-sized spectacles, the curious taste in clothes. When we smile at the mismatched jacket and trousers, we’re laughing at the follies of our own younger days – and if the truth be known, you probably do have to be a certain age to fully appreciate the jam-packed script. References to 80’s icons ranging from Wincey Willis to When The Wind Blows are scattered liberally throughout, and the laugh count’s kept high with a smattering of mangled metaphors and other subtly unexpected turns of phrase.
Layton’s other-worldly Fish is the perfect mouthpiece for this style of deadpan humour. And just in case it isn’t all wacky enough, he drops out of character occasionally for actorly asides – whether to acknowledge the self-evident weaknesses of his props, or discuss the position he’s adopting on the stage. It culminates in a glorious in-joke about a particularly unconventional piece of direction; in years to come, I’ll be able to say that I was there, when the rules of theatre as we know them were daringly turned upside-down.
Unfortunately however, on the day I saw the show, there were some unintended meta-theatricals too. The performance was blighted by a procession of errors with the sound and lighting – accompanied at times by disturbingly audible profanities from the general direction of the tech box. Layton earns my very genuine respect for keeping things together, and for improvising a heroically funny response to one particular messed-up sound cue. But he did also have some problems with lines, and the mistakes overall added up to something which I can’t quite overlook.
So there were a few clouds hovering over the performance that I saw – but I still forecast a bright future for Hurricane Michael. Offering a haze of nostalgia with occasional gusts of outright hilarity, it’s sunny enough to transcend the gloomiest of British weather.