Created and performed by Mike Raffone
Directed by John Whelan
Friday 1 June – Saturday 2 June
I like the vibe of Blue Elephant Theatre. Tucked away in a Camberwell back in the middle of a council housing estate, this theatre feels cheery and cosy. The volunteer staff are friendly and chatty, and the armchairs in the upstairs bar/foyer are just the right type of comfy. This is a theatre company which prides itself on bringing performances to a community which may not have much experience of theatre, and I gather that most of my (dozen-odd) fellow audience members fell into that category. This was fortunate, as they were just the right type of demographic for this show.
Mike Raffone (yep) is an experienced street performer and entertainer, with Brain Rinse being his first full-length one man show. The (fairly thin) premise is that he, a Northern ninja, is going to train us, the audience, to discover our inner ninjas also, via a journey through our minds: not a brain wash, you understand, just a light rinse. The whole “ninja” thing – the costume, the faux martial arts, the faux Japanesey war cries – was extremely cringey, in more ways than perhaps intended, but thankfully he wasn’t the only character: we also encountered an Army sergeant, a mountaineer, and a sex cult guru, thanks to some comically awkward costume changes behind a screen.
This is a show which relies heavily on asking the audience to come onstage and embarrass themselves in a range of ways. These include, but are not limited to: star jumps, pushups, pulling an “orgasm face”, being a “man mountain” which Raffone would then “mount” and conquer, “tantric French kissing” (no touching but lots of tongue), reciting Shakespeare, and much much more. The comedy is that old classic – laugh at a man doing silly things, then laugh at him making your unprepared friends do other silly things in front of an audience. And at time, it absolutely works! Some audience participants were terrified, others were good-natured and goofy, some even return some light fire, and one even discovered within herself an unexpected flair for performance (shout-out to Dawn!!). The hardest laugh for me was not at any of Raffone’s jokes, or even any of the victims’ actual stunts, but at the soft and helpless “oh, no” uttered by a hapless audience member as he realised that he was the next to be picked on.
This is entry-level theatre, entry-level interactive comedy, designed – much like street theatre – for your average Joe Bloggs who will be reliably intimidated by audience interaction, not too bothered by political correctness, and likely to dissolve into nervous laughter. I would not recommend this show to seasoned comedy or cabaret punters, as they may run the risk of undercutting some of Raffone’s jokes by being too comfortable taking part, and nor would I recommend it to those who may be made seriously uncomfortable by innuendo-laden personal space invasion (I can’t say I overly enjoyed having to have “tantric intercourse” with an older, male, audience member… even though there was no actual touching, we were instructed to go at it with thrusting motions towards the crotch accompanied by loud grunts, not something everyone wants to do with a complete stranger). However, if you’ve never strayed much into the cabaret/interactive theatre/comedy genre and fancy some silly fun with your friends (and yes, you can dob them in to be picked on), this show could be a good place to start.