Chav! and ASBO!: Neds and Scallies go musical

Two chav musicals compete for the title of most mediocre: only one gang of neds can win

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 4 minutes
Published 11 Aug 2007
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ASBO! The Musical - 2 stars

Chav! It's a Musical Innit - 3 stars

The Fringe is always quick to deal with hot political and social issues in sensitive and intelligent manner. In a programme that includes two musicals topically tackling the leadership of Tony Blair, it is hardly surprising to see two musicals dedicated to his social antithesis: the chav. The appearance of both ASBO! The Musical and Chav! It’s a Musical Innit show us that the obnoxious, anti-social, Burberry-clad miscreant commonly known as the chav has become one of the iconic love-hate symbols of the decade.

A thorn in the side of the well-to-do, the chav's presence can also make us feel a little bit better about ourselves. Naturally then the chav has become an easy target of social satire, a back-bone of comedy acts and fancy dress in much the same way as the straw-chewing, buck-toothed red-neck of the American Deep South.

Channel 4’s hugely popular series Shameless stands as testament to our fixation with the foul-mouthed, crime-ridden, drug-filled violent life of the chav. The lives of Frank Gallagher and co have kept plenty of us glued to our couches rather than running down to the nearest Waitrose to steal some organic crudités and hummus. Such is our fixation that Channel 4 has also fought back on our behalf, creating Skins to remind us that being middle class can also be hedonistic, rough and wild, in a more teenage angst-ridden way.

ASBO! The Musical toys with the nightmare of ‘Big Tone’, whose great chav-gagging scheme, the Anti Social Behaviour Order, has become the ultimate status symbol. Danny has no ASBO and needs one fast; it's just he seems incapable of getting it.

Complete with a predictable wardrobe of caps, hoodies and Burberry scarves, ASBO! pokes fun at everything that might be expected: teenage pregnancy, stealing and homosexuality, all in songs that sound like they were composed by the Woman’s Institute on an old Commodore 64.

While there are plenty of moments when ASBO! has the audience laughing out loud, the laziness of the social stereotyping means that most could just as easily make up the jokes sitting at home. This is good, honest fun but it is the type of fun that you could have by digging into your fancy dress box, dragging your old Casio keyboard out of the cupboard and doing your best attempt to mimic the accent and lingo of an inner-city rudeboy.

Chav! It’s a Musical Innit offers up a more balanced mix between social parody and politics, as it narrates the lives of three kids in fictional Debden. Male lead Dan’s relationship with the aptly named Destiny introduces him to her father, the leader of the local BNP party, and soon he finds himself immersed in a world of bigotry and race riots.

In the Big Belly, a hall that resembles an air-raid shelter, the late-night audience laps up the sharp caricatures and witty songs despite accents more grating than an orchestra of fingernails on blackboards. There are simple but superbly timed moments, captured both in dialogue and through small incidents such as the BNP leader’s 'God Save the Queen' ring-tone.

This attention to detail makes for a far more entertaining show than a simple, bludgeoning parody, the involvement of far-right politics adding a pinch of substance to what would otherwise be a simple let's-point-and-laugh affair. In a festival bursting with musicals covering everything from porn to jihad, chavs fit in perfectly. But as with so many of their rivals, there is a temptation to give in to pointless, dull-witted silliness instead of using the format to create something interesting.