I Heart Michael Ball

"We HEART Alex Millington's dark and funny one-man show"

In a tiny theatre on the top floor of the Old Red Lion Pub in London, I wasn’t in the audience, I was a member of the Michael Ball Appreciation Society (MBAS). As Michael's rendition of Hot Stuff played, the society founder, Alex (Alexander Millington) entered wearing a yellow anorak and underneath this a white T-shirt with I HEART MB plastered on the front. On the stage there was a table covered with signed photos, Ball’s CDs and a cardboard cut-out of the great man. 

How can we love someone so much, that we don’t know? For some, being a fan goes further than admiration for a talented performer; it’s about hope, shared memories, belonging, escapism, fascination. I HEART MICHAEL BALL explores this in a dark, comedic show, where one-man takes his obsession to the extreme.   

To say Alex is a superfan would be an understatement but from the outset we sense there is more to it. The set up is ominous. Why is there a plastic sheet covering the floor and a washing up bowl perched on a stool? This creates an uncomfortable air of suspense. There’s something disturbing about Alex’s interactions with the audience. He is affable, but his insistence that we pin on the I HEART MB badges he’s handed out and encouragement to take out our phones and follow the MBAS on Twitter is slightly menacing. 

The back story of Alex’s fixation with Ball is heart-wrenching.  His passion for the singer was shared by his elder brother, who wanted to be the next MB, but died before he fulfilled his dream. The two would listen to Ball to escape a violent home life. 

Millington’s characterisation is unsettling. He draws us into Alex’s tale with a child-like innocence and openness, so despite what we subsequently find out is going on backstage (no spoilers), we feel for him. Alex performs Ball’s songs, holding his own alongside Michael playing in the background. One Step Out of Time (Ball’s famous (if you’re a fan!) Eurovision entry) complete with copycat air punches and finger wagging had me in stitches. Millington balances the comedy, emotional moments and horror with skill and intensity, making the experience uncomfortably engaging for the entire hour.  

I HEART MICHAEL BALL was all the more entertaining and unnerving because it was not what I expected. It probably helped that I also heart Michael Ball (although, I hasten to add, not as much as Alex), making it funnier for me than others. And prior knowledge of the man and his career contextualises the sinister twist. However, the depth of the piece can be appreciated by everyone.    

Join the MBAS if there’s a meeting in your area, but prepare to be alarmed! 

This show was reviewed on the 24th October 2023 at The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub, London.  Details of the show can be found here: Split Infinitive – Exploring the relationship between performer and spectator (splitinfinitivetheatre.co.uk)

Review written by Victoria Willetts

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