It was an audible exchange that the St George’s hall crowd had heard innumerable times before. One person making a measured verbal reference to a seemingly innocuous movie, followed by a deflated, irritated sigh from his close compatriot. To the Wittertainment devotees who turned up to watch Radio Five Live stars Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo in Bristol on Sunday night, it was manna from movie heaven. The movie ‘doctors’ (Kermode with an actual doctorate in horror fiction; Mayo having seemingly picked his up in a buy one get one free offer) were in town at the beautiful concert venue to use cinema as a cure for all manner of ailments.
Admittedly, the only ‘therapy’ on offer was of the somewhat brutal (though undeniably hilarious) kind. Coulrophobia, otherwise known as a fear of clowns? Here was a clip of the memorably terrifying Tim Curry in Stephen King’s IT. Arachnophobia? Cue a shot of the equally sinister Julian Sands (a well-worn Wittertainment in-joke) holding a tarantula in the film of the same name. Kermode and Mayo knew their audience and unashamedly played to it, their familiar, crabby banter making them seem more like an old married couple than the dynamic pairing of film critic and veteran broadcaster, respectively.
The touring show ties in to the release of the pair’s new book, a collaboration exploring how cinema can make one feel better – and indeed scare people away from a particular notion entirely. Especially amusing was the ‘Family Planning Clinic’ section, designed to prevent over-population via liberal use of an eerie Village of the Damned clip (cue Kermode’s “You’re not going to London today” impression). On the other end of the spectrum, the expert use of the classic fourth-wall-breaking Ferris Bueller’s Day Off aimed to help a student plucked from the audience overcome his coursework woes.
Although the audience interaction was surprisingly lacking and the entire evening could be defined by the phrase ‘preaching to the choir’ (apt given it took place within a former church), the duo’s familiar passion, banter and energy helped paper over any cracks. There’s a reason why the Kermode and Mayo partnership has not just endured but strengthened over the years – ultimately, theirs is a chemistry that any doctors would like to bottle to help make people feel better.