A Thong for Europe review – hilariously subversive Eurovision celebration

Royal Court, Liverpool
An inspired parody of coming-out dramas meets a deliciously daft plot involving Sonia in Jonathan Harvey’s comedy

Who would have thought Jonathan Harvey would write a scene in which a character struggles to come out as straight? In this joyous musical comedy, the playwright, who made his name with the gay love story Beautiful Thing, plays a hilariously subversive trick.

This is 2023 and nobody doubts the sexuality of Terry (Andro Cowperthwaite), a camp dress designer with a love of Eurovision. Why wouldn’t he be gay? So when he falls for a girl, it paves the way for a brilliantly back-to-front reckoning in which his stand-in mother Lulu (Lindzi Germain) must mourn the loss of her rainbow-coloured future.

And how she mourns! Germain is a thrillingly abrasive actor, every emotion foregrounded, every reaction ratcheted up to 10. Her lightning transition from outrage to disappointment to acceptance is an inspired parody of the classic coming-out drama.

Emma Bispham in A Thong for Europe.
Heartfelt celebration of Eurovision’s inclusivity … Emma Bispham in A Thong for Europe. Photograph: Jason Roberts/Jason Roberts photography

Germain doesn’t do subtle, but she does give A Thong for Europe much of its drive – not to mention its formidable vocal power. Thanks to her and director Stephen Fletcher’s superb company, we happily buy into Harvey’s deliciously daft plot involving an eccentric visitor from the previously undiscovered nation of Balkania, an attempt to scatter Lulu’s mother’s ashes on the stage of the Liverpool Arena and a kidnapped Sonia, the chirpy Skelmersdale icon still riding on the success of 1993’s Better the Devil You Know.

There is also a ghost (best not to ask too many questions) and a sprinkling of Eurovision’s biggest earworms, from Boom Bang-a-Bang to Space Man.

Commissioned and programmed within days of the announcement of Liverpool’s winning bid to host the song contest on behalf of Ukraine, A Thong for Europe is not just an example of canny marketing. It is also a heartfelt celebration of Eurovision’s inclusivity – yes, you can be camp as well as straight – and its quirky love of cultural variety; clowns, milk churns, puppets and all.

For a show almost obsessively aware of its local roots, it also looks outwards to the world. It is about a city proud to hold its head up on a global stage. Above all, it is raucous and ribald fun – as silly and as frivolous as the contest itself.

• At Royal Court, Liverpool, until 27 May.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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