If you’re ever in the mood for something very endearing and blatantly heartfelt, go and watch Mel Byron pour her heart out on stage about all the old movies she has consumed over the years.
Armed with a bamboozling knowledge of Hollywood’s Golden era (including some of its not so golden entries), Byron gleefully recalls how these films have shaped her growing up, covering everyone from Carey Grant to Kay Francis, and directly references over 30 movies in the space of an hour. Byron makes light of her youth spent watching these movies and how they saved her from the boredom of a small Lancashire town.
If you are a movie buff, you have to see this. You will either marvel at Byron’s knowledge of cinema or feel completely inadequate in its wake. Either way, the outpouring of passionate trivia and adoration of the movies is joyous. Many of the big-hitting stars of the 30s, 40s and 50s are deliberately neglected, Byron instead opting to celebrate the forgotten stars of black-and-white movies. She offers a frantic, emotional rendition of her various thoughts, organised around significant events in her lives, including the launch of Channel 4 among other things. For a teenager in 1982, this was indeed a momentous occasion.
Byron constantly insists that she was not a loner or friendless movie nerd, contradicting this with several distinctions drawn between her and apparently every other young person of her time. Her show largely avoids taking a political stance, although towards the end of the show Byron does argue that everyone should view these old movies with a touch of sympathy in a post-Weinstein world. She does not hesitate in pointing out how blatantly sexist and unacceptable a number of them are. Even these hard-hitting points are delivered with beaver-ish excitement and frantic passion, the star of the show almost overcome with her love for the subject matter. Her jokes are often interspersed with clips from her favourite obscure gems of the era, often to great effect. It is lovely to see someone as in love with their show as Mel Byron.
The show however, much like an objectifying mid-quality Humphrey Bogart flick, has some unavoidable problems. The audio on some of the clips is of poor quality and it is not surprising to see Byron go over some of them twice one any problems have been corrected, ruining the flow of the show. Also, as fascinating as Byron’s reminiscence on movies is, it is not exactly funny. It is charming and Byron is very likeable, but for a show that sells itself as a comedy, the outright laughs are few and far between. There is a chuckle or two from easily pleased members of the audience, but if you come to Old Movies Saved My Life expecting to howl in hysterics, you will be rather disappointed.
You also require a relentless knowledge of cinema for this. Byron likes to get the audience casually involved but struggles to pull this off consistently. Her valiant attempts to get the crowd to recognise her idol, Irene Dunne, go practically ignored. A guessing game of spot the actor, in which the most obvious answer is John Wayne among a plethora of apparently random strangers, also doesn’t quite come off as planned. Perhaps Byron expects this, but the audience is still left rather mute.
Imperfect then, but all the same a satisfying and life-affirming piece of entertainment. Mel Byron’s show is not a faultless masterpiece but does enough to leave you happy that you came and gives you a chance to revel in what true obscure knowledge really looks like.
Old Movies Saved My Life
theSpace @ Jurys Inn – Main Theatre (Venue 260)
Runs until 25 August
Photo Credit: Mel Byron