Pool Noodles: Review
Or, in honour of BBC Cambridgeshire, “Paul Noodles: Review”
Although I have never personally been struck with the desire to become a lifeguard, one can understand how, in the world of Hardwater Leisure Centre, young Kenneth "Kenny" Shallows (played magnificently by Alex Franklin) aspires throughout the show to be a lifeguard in the glittering gold and rubied glory of the lifeguard's t-shirt and shorts, even offering us a musical number (reprised in the final moments) to demonstrate his commitment, as well as the show's commitment to the surreal.
In order to become a lifeguard, Kenny must win the Big Race. In a shrine to his hero, Flume Hotshot, he discovers a coded recipe to an elixir that will allow him to win the race and become a lifeguard (without doing any of the training or the work). The show tracks Kenny's progress through an impossibly large leisure centre in search of the elixir's ingredients, moving from juice bars to crazy golf courses to a spectacular dance sequence, in which the moves for the dance are announced over prerecorded voice-over. The synchronicity of the cast is wonderful, and it is a hilariously choreographed move from basic dance moves to a domestic incident, all in one dance class.
Will Bicknell-Found and Noah Geelan act as a rotating cast around the immutability of Franklin's Kenny, moving between lifeguards in various guises to golf players, juice chuggers, beast tamers and tens more roles throughout the show, with a fluid ease. Impressively, moments where the transitions are rushed or don't quite succeed work just as well as those that do. Voiceovers are also put to excellent use, with the commentary on the Big Race a particular standout.
The latter half of the show becomes increasingly more surreal, submerging us (so to speak) in the leisure centre environment. My favourite character of Geelan's is Jimmy, a boy who's been trapped in the red flume for 15 years. Kenny, in his endeavour to be a good lifeguard, goes to investigate – finding an ingredient of the elixir along the way – and it is a strangely heartwarming scene despite some scatological humour in the mix. The self-awareness of Bicknell-Found's Rob the 'Towelman' ("I'm the Hagrid of this show") is also worthy of note, with a brilliant fourth-wall-breaking joke in which he becomes Flume Hotshot with the addition of Flume's characteristic headband and glasses, instantly and repeatedly fooling Kenny, which is an excellent touch.
There were naturally some stumbles, given that the show was partially improvised, and some moments did seem to fall a little flat, particularly early on in the show. But as we warm to our environment, and become immersed in the surreal nature of the biggest leisure centre in Britain if you count the car park (which they do), one cannot help but root for Kenny as he cheats his way through the big race – despite the fact that he really is not qualified to be a lifeguard in any way, given that he skipped all his classes to go and seek a possibly toxic elixir.
Nonetheless, we come to believe in Kenny's dreams as he perseveres in his quest (if not his lifeguard training), and come away from the show with the hope that, should his lifeguarding dreams fail, he will go forth and conquer, perhaps, a bowling alley complex or jungle gym.