My Name Is Sue at Tobacco Factory starts off in an almost Hinge & Bracket style of genteel cross-dressing melodic entertainment. By the end you feel you've been trapped in a House of Horrors by a psychotic Cheshire Cat with frenzied glitterball eyes and a zombie yelling Armageddon death threats. In fact you've done quite a lot of yelling yourself, leaping to your feet and joining the chant 'We're all going to die!' as Sue conducts, capering herself into a final frenzy.
The show is an extraordinary life journey, from an unfortunate start - mother choked to death on a bourbon biscuit - to a nightmare finish, a downward spiral from vulnerability to insanity. There's a backing band of three smaller Sues too, also in wigs with sinister fringes and frumpy twinsets, all as grim-faced as big Sue is scarily smiley. The songs may start cheery, but the dark side soon hurtles in: “Sue on the bus wherever it goes – what does she see?” begins as a kind of Postman Pat singalong, until the list includes a baby with no head and a screaming mother covered in blood. Eventually institutionalised, Sue gets along fine with the nodding, bleating, waving inmates - all parts played by the audience in a very funny, increasingly manic, song, till the sudden ending: ‘And then they shut the place down and sent us all home.’
We're getting used to Sue's demands for participation while she abandons her piano for a burst of River-dance-on-acid capering, so it's quite shocking when in the final song she collapses, leaving it to the band to indicate her demise and the end of the show. Still standing, our football-tribute waving arms faltering, we giggle nervously until Sue rises briefly to dismiss us. It was a brave end but not a particularly good one. London reviews reproached Dafydd James – aka Sue – for dealing with the tragedy of mental illness after 'the joyfully surreal lyrics of the earlier songs' but to me the show was a seamless story, sad and terrifying for all the uncomfortable laughter. It might be significant that as well as jingles of shingles and Pringles and the black comic bounciness of At half past five we all come alive but we're tied to our beds till ten , Sue movingly sings a straight cover of "No Surprises". The Radiohead video shows Thom Yorke's head inside a glass helmet which is slowly filling with water until he can't sing and struggles to breathe. Maybe the Guardian reviewer could have reflected on this image before summing up the show as 'Pleasingly daft, inconsequential and brilliant' - though I suppose one out of three ain't bad.
Frome Festival newsflash: Festus Foss the brochure cover cat, bursting like an uncorked genie from the medieval houses on Catherine Hill, now features on souvenir festival bags, all on ecofriendly fabric and on sale for a fiver. This was the brainwave of Writers & Publishers Day organiser, Bev Jones, here modeling how to wear a bag for a press shot. Many thanks to Stephen Tate for the promo.