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Salty Brine at Soho Theatre review – an extraordinarily beautiful monster mash-up

 (Harry Elletson)
(Harry Elletson)

Well, Bigmouth Strikes Again – The Smiths Show is certainly something you don’t see every night. New York cabaret darling Salty Brine’s music-meets-mirth show knits together Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein and The Smith’s landmark 1987 album The Queen Is Dead. Call it the ultimate monster mash-up.

After gliding onstage and removing a furry hood and cape to reveal a red mini-dress, Brine demonstrated how these unlikely artistic bedfellows are actually kindred spirits. Shelley was married to Percy Bysshe and was friends with Keats and Byron. Smiths lynchpin Morrissey was something of a romantic poet too. Graveyards pop up in both her book and his lyrics.

And, crucially, Victor Frankenstein’s creation and the Mancunian moaner were very much outsiders. Perhaps Salty Brine relates to this too, peppering the set with his youthful musings about bible belt high-school crushes and his sexual awakening in New York’s bathhouses.

There is, of course, another monster in the room – Morrissey’s recent comments on nationalism and race. Brine briefly addressed this, but like many, remains bemused how someone so humane could say such things. A theme about fear of change is possibly a comment on the singer’s yearning for the past.

Brine puts his own stamp on familiar numbers, aided by a skilful lo-fi band led by musical director/pianist Ben Moss. Frankly, Mr Shankly has a music hall tinge, while angry rockier songs such as the title track become jaunty. It is redolent of crooner Paul Anka de-grungeing Nirvana. It should not work, yet it does.

The comic banter is camp and flirtatious, the songs compelling. Imagine the Rocky Horror Show retooled for indie kids. Brine doesn’t have the range of Morrissey but what he lacks in finesse he makes up for in booming baritone.

Bigmouth Strikes Again really is special. Faithful enough for fans of the band to enjoy it, distinct enough not to feel like a tribute act. It is part of Brine’s Living Record Collection project – previous outings have included twists on the work of Adele and Prince and Beatles tracks as German Kabarett. Anyone for Abbey Strasse?

Brine concludes by suggesting that maybe Frankenstein endures because we all have a monster within us, before playfully suggesting that his monster is way more talented than ours. It’s a wonderfully mischievous end to a unique evening. What could have been a terrifying culture clash is actually extraordinarily beautiful.

Soho Theatre, to September 16; sohotheatre.com