The Blue Man Group

A great show - if you're a five-year-old.

Grace Chua

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The Blue Man Group’s new London show is perfect for chasing away those winter blues. If you’re the average five-year-old, that is.

Who are the Blue Men? There are three of them, all mute and painted a slick oily brilliant blue, clad in space-age long johns and doing interesting percussion-y things with pipes and paint.

The Blue Man Group originated in New York in the late 1980s, when three friends – Chris Wink, Phil Stanton and Matt Goldman – started doing street performances. The show evolved into a theatre act, with performances in Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas and now London. Now there are more than 60 performing Blue Men, spreading the franchise of pre-packaged anarchy around the world.

The show is a quirky combination of music, art, comedy and physical theatre. The London show – showing at the New London Theatre – opens with a brilliant light-and-paint performance. The Blue Men bang on drums, pouring on more and more paint, which splatters and splashes spectacularly skywards. Then they clamber off the stage and into the audience, apparently stalking their victims at random. Latecomers are feted loudly in a backhanded humiliation. One man is coated in blue paint and swung upside down into a canvas (kids, don’t try this at home).

The Blue Men display a childlike oral fixation. They give one man in the front row what looks like an endoscopy. They catch paint-filled gobstoppers and marshmallows in their mouths, making swirly spray art and extruding marshmallow sculptures. There is one particularly gruesome segment in which a girl is invited onstage and fed, and a vomit-like substance spews from a hole in the chest of the suit they’ve put on her. This show is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart.

Wetness is another recurring theme – the show has a decidedly soggy bent, as the Blue Men hurl paint-filled water balloons at each other (the first two rows are supplied with blue plastic ponchos to catch any stray drips and splashes).

But when the show attempts to deconstruct modern culture or make incisive social comment, it tries a bit too hard to be clever and violates the ‘show, don’t tell’ golden rule. In an internet café scene, scrolling LED signs describe the ironic experience of ‘sitting next to dozens of strangers in silence so you can communicate with people you’ve never seen before’. This draws a guilty chuckle from some adults in the audience.

A ‘how to be a rock star’ segment with stick figures reminiscent of how-to manuals parodies the mass arm-pumping and head-bobbing at rock concerts, inviting the audience to mimic the actions. This gets little response from everyone but the toddlers.

The grand finale consists of smothering the audience with massive rolls of toilet paper. It’s like an outsize Halloween prank, or perhaps a last-ditch effort to mop up the messes and spills. For the last three minutes, thanks to mountains of paper blocking my view, I could not see anything at all – I worried that I could end up the first person in the world to be suffocated by loo roll.

There is a fine line between audience participation and audience humiliation, and the Blue Man Group treads it skilfully; thanks to their childlike demeanour their antics are generally tolerated and well-received. Who can resist an overgrown, musically talented five-year-old from another planet? But they have to decide to whom they’re playing. The social commentary seems out of place amid the slapstick paint-slinging fun. Children might eat up the pre-packaged anarchy, but adults could only feel bluer.

Grace Chua is studying in America, and has worked as an intern at spiked.

The Blue Man Group is showing at New London Theatre, Drury Lane, London, to 26 March 2006.

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