September 8, 2015 / 6:28 PM / 3 years ago

Record-breaking London show makes light of migrant crisis

LONDON (Reuters) - One of London’s most exclusive enclaves provides the unlikely setting for the world’s longest-running live satire show, which thrives on bad news and is rarely short of material.

The current fare of NewsRevue at Little Venice’s Canal Cafe Theatre includes paedophilia scandals and the Syrian civil war.

To Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis, the cult show offers Britain a simple solution: seal the Channel Tunnel with cement.

If the joke is flat on the page, on the stage it is full of the energy of four youthful performers: two men and two women, accompanied by a musical director whose harmonies add a feel-good factor to the satire’s savage force.

The formula is anything but new.

The 60-seat theater above a pub, set among the hushed west London district’s multi-million-pound villas, has been making light of the vexed issues of the day since 1979.

Producer Emma Taylor says the secret to winning a place in the Guinness Book of Records and keeping it, with four shows a week throughout the year, is constant reinvention.

The cast changes every six weeks and the show is updated weekly, drawing on a pool of around 100 writers. They send emailed material which is collated by the production team and cast, and condensed into an hour of breakneck comedy.

Selected through an audition process that Taylor says is legendary in the business because of its demands for musicality, comic improvisation and an array of accents, the cast members are often writers too.

Some of the most successful to have passed through the Canal Cafe are impressionist Rory Bremner and members of comedy quartet The League of Gentlemen.

The best of 50 weeks of performances is selected for NewsRevue’s two-week August stint at the annual Edinburgh International Festival, which this year earned it five-star reviews.

That hasn’t always been the case. In some years, the critics have found the satire too tame or the formula tired.

For Taylor, a former drama and French teacher who has been producing at the cafe theater since 2001, a high point and a low point were the al Qaeda attacks that year on the United States.

In the immediate aftermath, the team decided to go ahead with a show but scrupulously avoided 9/11 jokes.

“We could not touch it. The (written) material that came in was horrendous,” Taylor said.

But the audience felt let down. One heckler at the back shouted: “Cowards!”

Two weeks later, NewsRevue was back on track with what Taylor says was one of its finest moments: a 9/11 ballad of the two Bush presidents, set to music by Muslim convert Cat Stevens.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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