Joseph Morpurgo: Soothing Sounds for Baby

I’m going to start by dismissing the notion that we’re due something entirely new from Joseph Morpurgo, because such thinking ignores the staggeringly high standards to which the character comic is held. This is his third solo year, and the radio/vinyl narrative of Soothing Sounds For Baby sees marked progress even on the captivating, VHS-driven madness of 2014’s Odessa.

Soothing Sounds For Baby is a labour of love, and from both its comedic quality and narrative unity, it really shows.

They’re similar, but by no means identical creations: for starters, Morpurgo himself is a character in this iteration of his found footage-inspired, multimedia comedy recipe. Under the spotlight, he exchanges words with a terse, Cassetteboy-ed Kirsty Young as the subject of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Each time he reveals the next of his eight favourite LPs, we meet the face of its supremely dated album cover, but the interstitial interview segments with Young’s dismissive, disembodied voice reveal another, more unsettling narrative.

Freaks and geeks would be a good way to describe the albums’ cover stars. The grotesquerie prevalent within Odessa lives on in a reframed reading of AA Milne by Norman Shelley, but the surreal hilarity on offer here is far more varied.

An invented London grime radio DJ raps out a series of bewildering album titles. Eccentric images and instructions fly at us from a projector, allowing for more Odessa-style segments of inclusive and abusive audience interaction. These come from green-fingered pianist Joseph Cooper, who leads a raucous choir session, and Stanley Clarke – the 80s’ resident lurve-coach. Hugs all round, weirdos!

The many faces of his desert island vinyl choices give Morpurgo the perfect excuse to diversify even further – so he does. When he’s not spitting rhymes, he’s reworking classic TV themes into absurdist gems. When he’s not teaching us sexy poses, he’s unearthing the etymology of a terrible nineties band name. Bored, somehow? Why not try the Dazz Band’s impossible quiz? These sketches are all seamlessly linked, of course, with Morpurgo’s speedy costume changes masked by madcap, vinyl-related projections.

All the while, he unravels the delicate thread of his own story and begins to tie everything else up: the music, the interview, the endless cascade of vinyl covers. Seeing work that’s so meticulously put together is enthralling – because behind the constantly vibrant comedy, the graft that’s gone into the show is truly jaw-dropping.

There are 350+ episodes of Discs that he might have trawled through to cut together his confrontational dialogue with Young, its presenter of nine years. There are probably more than 100 obscure LPs in the room, each resurrected to be simultaneously cherished and ridiculed. Soothing Sounds For Baby is a labour of love, and from both its comedic quality and narrative unity, it really shows.

Reviews by Larry Bartleet

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The Blurb

‘Well on his way to becoming one of the stand-out talents of his generation’ (Times). Acclaimed multimedia comic returns with an outlandishly funny new hour of excavated vinyl and throttled hyperkonzept. As seen in Austentatious (***** Times), BBC Two’s Harry and Paul and Comedy Central’s Drunk History. ‘Brilliantly ambitious’ (Times). ‘An exhilarating trip into the tirelessly inventive mind of an obvious talent’ **** (Time Out). ‘Thrillingly inventive’ ***** (Fest). ‘David Lynchian-demented’ (Scotsman). ‘Talent to burn’ **** (List). ‘Side-splitting’ **** (Skinny). ‘A weird wonder of a show’ **** (ThreeWeeks). ‘Absolute lunatic perfection’ ***** (Londonist.com).

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