By Robert Fairclough
You can’t keep a good secret agent down, not even a pandemic could prevent ‘Fabba – Top Secret’ from putting on an incredible show!
Fabba, the theatre company for adults with learning disabilities and additional needs, founded in 2009 by Leading Lives support workers Carolyn Baker and Becky Hammersly, began rehearsing before the first lockdown in 2020 so, like its big screen cousin ‘No Time to Die’, it’s waited a long time to have its moment in the gun sight.
During that hiatus, the play’s writer and Fabba’s original artistic director Will Isgrove moved on, so Louise Harrison and Eve Ferrerio took on the world of supervillains and superspies and, in the process, reloaded Fabba’s artistic arsenal.
The new team have delivered an impressive, pacy, modern show. There was an array of visual innovations – principally, pre-filmed sequences projected on a big screen, including a car chase around Kessingland and Pakefield – was typical of the ambition on display throughout the production, which also extended to specially built ‘underground lair’!
The show was full of great jokes, visual innovations and expressive dance numbers which dazzled and entertained. One of my favourite scenes was the obligatory secret agent underwater battle. It’s always great to see a homage to ‘Thunderball’, and three of the cast wearing rather startled looking fish on their heads was another witty, visual triumph.
The use of music – always one of Fabba’s strengths – is adventurous too.
Apart from spy standards like the Bond songbook, ‘Secret Agent Man’ and ‘Mission: Impossible’, there was inventive use of ‘You Never Can Tell’ by Chuck Berry, ‘Bad Guys’ (from kids-with-custard-pies musical ‘Bugsy Malone’), Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ and – inevitably, given how popular the Austin Powers films are – ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ by Quincy Jones.
The cast attacked Isgrove’s James Bond pastiche with great enthusiasm, clearly inspired by the chance to finally perform a play they’ve worked on for so long. Jake Hollingsworth as Adam Secret Agent set up the customary puns-so-bad-they-make-you-groan with relish – someone is electrocuted: “Shocking!”, someone is killed by a gun disguised as pen: “The pen is mightier than the sword!”, and someone is killed by a pair of laser glasses: “I’ll look into it!” Roger Moore would have been proud of the lad… Meanwhile, Callum Taylor and Ben Sykes, as Adam’s unwanted back-up Mercury and Silver, were the perfect double-act.
A notable aspect of ‘Top Secret’ is that there are so many good performances, a sign of how confident the performers have become since Fabba reconvened in April. Other notable turns came from Joshua Southgate as the eternally grumpy White; Sebastian Davies, milking the role of Dr Proton, the arch villain, for all its cat-stroking worth, and Bernie McDonald, who got so into her three parts that she delivered a bow at the end of every scene she was in.
The audiences loved ‘Top Secret’, rewarding every confidently co-ordinated dance sequence with enthusiastic applause. It struck me that the refrain “We could be anything we wanted to be” from ‘Bad Guys’ was highly appropriate, as Fabba does so much for these young people in terms of confidence, self belief, social skills and good, old-fashioned fun. The whole ethos of the company was summed up when, at the end, Eddie Barnes, flushed with the success of taking on no less than four different roles, rushed into the audience to hug his parents. Fabba founder Carolyn Baker came on at the end to thank everyone and declared, “We’re back, after nearly two years!” At the risk of paraphrasing Take That (who surely should have recorded a Bond theme), let’s hope that Fabba are now back for good.
Excellent work, Mr Agent.
If you missed this show, make sure you follow their Facebook page as they are busy rehearsing The Wizard of Oz for the Christmas season at the company’s second base, St George’s Theatre in Great Yarmouth, on 2 and 3 of December.
Fabba can be contacted through Leading Lives: