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Ugly Chief review at Battersea Arts Centre, London – ‘funny and fascinating’

Victoria Melody in Ugly Chief at Battersea Arts Centre, London. Photo: Hugo Glendinning Mike Melody and Victoria Melody in Ugly Chief at Battersea Arts Centre, London. Photo: Hugo Glendinning
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Victoria Melody’s father is the TV antiques dealer Mike Melody, ousted from ITV for the grave misdemeanour of “yawning at David Dickinson and refusing to apologise.”

In 2013, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given five years to live. Then it was discovered he’d been misdiagnosed and wasn’t terminally ill at all. Having been put in charge of funeral arrangements, Victoria Melody decided to go ahead with it anyway, training as a funeral director in Port Talbot and turning the ceremony into a piece of live performance in collaboration with her dad, complete with tangerine Blackpool football strips, a barbecue and a New Orleans jazz band to add “emotional depth.”

What follows is an extremely funny and wonderfully strange exhumation of family grievances, the partial unpicking of a relationship freighted with resentment, disappointment, frailty and familiarity. Melody (Gaelic for ‘ugly chief’, according to her father) is a charming performer, known for immersing herself in the peculiarities and particularities of other people’s professions – for past shows, she’s become a pigeon fancier, dog trainer and beauty pageant contestant.

This time, she’s gripped by the funeral industry and the minutiae of mortality, all the euphemistic and ritualised ways that the living deal with death. But her anthropological instincts are upended by Mike Melody’s shambling onstage energy and interruptions.

The question of what’s real and what’s rehearsed provides an intriguing tension to the awkwardness of their personality clash. Her exasperated eye-rolling tolerance of his eccentricities skilfully develops into the exposure of sublimated anger and a kind of reconciliation.

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Fascinating and very funny show about the formalities of funerals, provenance and paternity