How does one ever parody the Eurovision Song Contest when the original is already beyond parody?
In trying to do exactly that, Eurobeat had clearly set itself a considerable challenge, but in the event it was one that it frequently, if not always, rose to.
For a start, most people’s Eurovision evening will commence with a mere press of the remote control. In contrast, long before I entered the auditorium at the Novello Theatre, I was asked to pick a badge to reveal the country I would be supporting, and handed a corresponding flag, clacker and souvenir programme complete with wacky Eurovision quizzes. For a show that is all about encouraging the audience to indulge in the ghastliness of the occasion, this was a highly promising start.
Hosted from ‘Sarajevo’, with all the compulsory jokes about goats and famines-no-more, Eurobeat presents songs from ten different countries. Written by Craig Christie and Andrew Patterson, they capture the variety of styles – and general standard – of music on offer at the Eurovision Song Contest with striking authenticity. So Italy’s entry is a combination of opera, pop and rap that would see ‘Puccini turning, rocking and hip-hopping in his grave’, whilst the UK present a typically trashy Britpop song prompting the comperes to ‘compliment’ the country on producing the same standard that it does every year.
Many of the jokes are highly predictable, but that was perfectly acceptable because, not to have, for example, the smoke effects totally overwhelming one singer would be like staging Richard III without the Duke of Gloucester. Others are surprisingly subtle. For example, the Polish entry is sung by a former political activist turned singer. His ‘feel-good’ song in which he and his companions brandish briefcases is a commentary on how the activists of the Soviet era have now jumped aboard the reactionary capitalist gravy train. As satire goes, the songs themselves, sung and danced to a high standard, are everything you could ask for, and the fact that, unlike normal Eurovision entries, they are supposed to be awful, actually makes them very entertaining indeed.
But the compering scenes, with Les Dennis and Mel Giedroyc as presenters, Sergei and Byoka, prevented the show from hanging together. On their own, they were fine with amusing, if hardly brilliant, jokes, but the pace and energy generated by the songs was then destroyed by their rather stilted banter. Eurobeat always faced a difficult task because the first song had to be spectacular, and then every subsequent act needed either to match or supersede the last. The only way to legitimately vary the pace was through the compering, but in the event these interludes inappropriately applied the brake at every turn.
In the second half the problem became more acute when the comperes interacted with the audience because Dennis and Giedroyc always seemed to be actors playing a part, rather than presenters conversing naturally. Nevertheless, the voting was amusing. With cameras cutting to each country on a screen, there were millions of stereotypical jokes about each nationality, but these felt fine because they poked fun at everyone equally. So Sweden had the most x-rated air and the cleanest porn, whilst the sexy Italian presenter had to keep stopping her topless male lover from appearing in the shot. The frequent cuts back to the dressing room were also funny, with stranger things going on every time we returned.
But whilst Eurobeat is highly entertaining, I felt that I should have been genuinely rolling about in the aisle with laughter. And though the audience enjoyed the experience, rising to their feet and waving their flags as the winning entry was reprised, the atmosphere could still have been more highly charged. Whilst the production proved that a parody of Eurovision is possible, it failed to fulfil the high expectations it had set of itself. In fact, Terry Wogan appears to have read Eurobeat perfectly. Addressing the audience in a pre-recorded cameo, he was clearly happy to endorse the show, whilst also maintaining a cool distance.