Everything Theatre, 1 September
An hour of uplifting comedy, interspersed with very funny songs
This may not be the most polished or slickest of shows – a problem for some, although not for me!
An excellent way to spend an hour; I defy anyone to leave not feeling cheerier for the show they’ve just experienced. And you’ll also leaving humming, which may be slightly more annoying...
The problem, or the joy depending upon how you look at it, of fringe theatre is that you never really know the quality of what you’re walking into. You can accidently stumble across some real gems, or be utterly disappointed by that show that nine different people have recommended to you. Hey Hey 16K manages to combine both that brilliance and crappiness within one show, the important thing here being that they completely acknowledge their own limitations. They don’t try and pretend that this show is anything other than lighthearted comedy, featuring two middle-aged men performing comedy songs in bad wigs. And for that reason it’s an absolute pleasure to watch.
The premise of the show, although to be honest it’s hardly important, is that MJ Hibbert travels back in time to talk to his geeky teenage self, performed by Steve with the unwavering conviction of someone who has clearly spent plenty of time with teenagers. In doing so, events unfold that ultimately require Ada Lovelace (in a Princess Leia wig) and the current Hibbert to convince his teenage form of the importance of being himself and to ignore the urge to ‘be normal’. This story is a very loose framework on which to hang songs, including Hey Hey 16K itself, Hibbert’s internet phenomenon from a decade ago.
The songs are undeniably very funny – songs about how to pick the correct beer, the delights of coming from the Fens and what life was like in the 80s all have the audience in giggles. I was particularly delighted by the song which validated my utter existence: 20 Things to Do Before You’re 30 told me it was absolutely fine that I was ignoring my peers’ pleas to throw myself off high bridges with just a rubber band for support. MJ Hibbert has been compared to Billy Bragg in the past and for good reason – this Bragg has just temporarily laid his political angst to the side, and taken to singing about his favourite Doctor Who companion.
Seeing comedy at the Camden Comedy Club always feels like the real deal: up a tiny flight of stairs at the back of the pub, handing over your money on the door, slightly sticky flooring throughout and a dodgy looking red curtain as a back drop. I wouldn’t have it any other way. All the super-polished, high-res, ultra slick comedy shows out there begin to feel so impersonal after a while, and this show is nothing if not personal. The best sort of comedy has true heart, and this show has it in bucket loads. I left with the biggest smile humming the title song – what more could you ask for from an hour long comedy music show?
Fringe Guru, 19 July
Manic Miner. POKE and PEEK. The Acorn Electron and the Oric-1. Do you have the slightest idea what I’m talking about? If so, then you’re probably in your forties, and you’re squarely in the target demographic for Hey Hey 16K – an unashamedly obscure celebration of an almost magical childhood. The microcomputer boom of the 1980’s inspired a whole generation of technically-aware teenagers, and if you were among the millions of kids who prodded the rubber keys of a ZX81 then you’re pretty much guaranteed to love this funny, inspiring show.
Let’s be clear from the start, though: Hey Hey 16K contains a lot of elements I’m really supposed to complain about. It’s crammed into the corner of a random Buxton restaurant, and it’s performed by two men in ludicrous wigs, whose loveable charisma disguises the fact that they honestly can't act for toffee. Mistakes are frequent, the only prop is a Hula Hoop, and the "rock opera" accompaniment consists of a kazoo and an acoustic guitar. It is, in short, a back-room bodge of a show… but then again, back in the 8-bit age, a lot of creative masterpieces were bodged in back rooms.
It’s about much more than witty lyrics though, because Hey Hey 16K is also a superbly constructed piece of musical theatre. The geeky nostalgia is just the entry point; the storyline evolves into a piquant and pertinent commentary on what happens as a generation grows up, and collectively enters middle age. Hibbett and Steve deliver an eloquent riposte to the glorification of youth, rejecting the idea that life’s great experiences must be had by the age of thirty. And with the wisdom and perspective that only comes with time, the pair also touch on questions of personal fulfilment… concluding in the end that, while success is very pleasant, it’s so much better to do the things you enjoy.
To deliver such life-affirming messages – with a lightness of touch, and never a hint of sermonising – is achievement enough for any show. But to wrap them up in non-stop laughter, and bind them into songs I still find myself humming, is surely a work of genius. Like the wannabe BASIC masterpieces I coded in my youth, Hey Hey 16K is as thoughtful and creative as it’s rudimentary and ramshackle. It’s a VIC-20 show in an iPhone Fringe, but you know what? I just can’t help loving them for it.
BroadwayBaby, 19 August
Two stand-up (not in the comedic sense) guys riffing on Doctor Who and the origins of programming doesn’t sound scintillating. And it isn’t. But there’s a warming charm about a musical geekathon: MJ Hibbett and Steve are what I imagine Brian Cox’s band sounded like (except I never listened to them).
Never before has there been such a prodigious bandying of the word ‘titting’ (not as creepy as it seems), or so shameless a use of the hula hoop vortex. Awkward writhing (sorry, dancing) and dodgy dad jokes can’t get more enjoyable. Beer, ladies and Allen keys are the sujets du jour, but this isn’t off-puttingly laddish.
In fact, there are moments of real tenderness: 20 Things To Do Before You’re 30 has Steve reaching for a higher, softer register, and a slightly overworked rendition of We Are Entirely Normal clearly taps into the duo’s real past concerns. Very different is the sing-a-long for MJ Hibbett’s undeniably catchy Youtube hit, a perfect, rollicking resolution.
For a show that confronts the space/time paradox, Hey Hey 16K is surprisingly one- dimensional when it comes to duets. The pair have brawny lungs that can belt out a tune with the force of a Welsh male choir, but the lack of any harmonising means there’s nothing keeping the audience hopeful of any true exposition.
Programming and poetry are slammed together in a thoughtful song (both convey complicated ideas with clarity). Don’t go thinking this is carefully considered stuff however. An audience member grumbled that he only counted 15 of the 20 things he expected in the aforementioned song. But that’s missing the point of this joyously simple, free pub party.
Actually, I think this would do exceptionally well as a kids’ show (with less ‘titting’ of course): the knowing immaturity of the quick back-and-forths combined with an intelligent look at computing’s progression (from Ada Lovelace to Kraftwerk) would go down a treat in a Year 7 history class for children who’ve just picked up a micro:bit. Hey Hey 16K has the potential to illuminate a colourful past of switches and LEDs and inspire a new generation of technological tinkerers.
BroadwayWorld, 14 August
Aptly introduced by the cast as an hour of "singing, dancing and titting about", this two man musical comedy takes it name from the viral music video hit of the pre-YouTube era, praising the many virtues of the ZX Spectrum and its ilk. In Hey Hey 16k, our protagonist Mark travels back in time to 1985, the heyday of such machines, where fears of tape-loading errors sat alongside fears of nuclear oblivion. There, he meets his younger self, a teenager more comfortable with programming than procreation, yearning to be normal, and to whom he offers up advice for the future in the form of a range of catchy comedy songs. The voyage of nostalgic reflection is akin to a nerdier version of autobiographies like John O'Farrell's Things Can Only Get Better, and features songs about everything from dad jokes to the poetry of computer programming.
There is something of a jukebox musical feel to the show, as often disparately themed songs are hung on a somewhat flimsy narrative - a digression causing the appearance of Ada Lovelace seemed a little forced - though the songs themselves are enjoyable and the performance never takes itself too seriously. A particular highlight was an early song noting how the popular idea of what the 1980s were like was far away from the real working class experience. Geeky references, such as Mark proving his identity to his younger self by identifying which Doctor Who assistant would be his dream woman, also go down well.
It feels refreshingly like a Fringe show should, with time-travel effects created with the aid of a whistle and some excellent hula hoop work, and an intimate setting allowing the performers to riff on the audience's responses, as well as encouraging them to sing along with the eponymous final song (that you will still be singing hours later!).
Hey Hey 16k is a fun Fringe frolic and an ideal show for the Buzzfeed generation - those, like myself, who regularly try to relive our history through gifset snapshots and who are so often staggered by how much things have changed in our lifetimes (remember when computers ran on tapes?!). To make it an even better alternative to such articles, all audience members get a free CD and badge!
Buxton Festival Fringe Comedy Reviews, 19 July
This performance was very funny. You are taken on a journey of surviving adolescence and a tribute to old computers with plenty of music and laughter. A very cleverly scripted combination of songs and time travel, along with some of the worst Dad jokes ever – be ready to groan! This is a perfect production for the Fringe, original, witty and entertaining. Songs about programming and being normal certainly struck a chord with the audience who were hooting with laughter. Then further fun reflecting on the absurdities of acceptable technology in the 80s that merge, no collide, with a view of the future that does not end in nuclear meltdown!
What is so great is that Mark and Steve really do enjoy themselves and you feel you are included as old friends when they share all their thoughts and observations. We sat in the back room of The Hydro which is a lovely location but the time travel may be restricted with a larger audience, so use your imagination. The gift of a free CD and badge will encourage you to look them up and seek them out for another performance. Highly recommended and I am still singing "hey, hey 16K..."
(also nominated for Best Comedy Show in the 2015 Buxton Fringe Awards
Get Reading, 17 July 2015
MJ Hibbett (and Steve) perform a rock opera influenced by MJ's self-penned hit 90s record, Hey Hey 16k - a hymn to the ZX Spectrum. This musical cabaret sees MJ go back in time to 1985 where he meets his 15-year-old self and teaches him about the future and how to be normal.
Both MJ and Steve were hilarious throughout and although there were a few moments when they forget their lines they played up to it making the moment even funnier. There were moments when each of them dropped out of character (if an actor playing himself is able to do that) and ad libbed to the audience - feeding off of their reactions.
Everyone was in hysterics - especially during the number about how the 80s were actually nothing like they're portrayed now - apparently it wasn't all as good as Duran Duran. There were load applauses and whoops at the end of the performance.
The tap routine - I'm not sure how they got through it with the audience doubled over but they did and I was crying with laughter for a little while after.
Alt Reading, 17 July 2015
I had no idea what to expect as sat in The Purple Basement waiting to watch Hey Hey 16K. Alarm bells started to ring when I soon realised I was about a decade younger than most of the audience, and when one person told me: ‘I can help explain the references once it’s over’.
Hey Hey 16K is a half-nostalgic and half-satirical look back to the 1980s from the duo, MJ Hibbett and Steve. However, despite the fact that much the play references a period before I was born, I found myself laughing from start to finish.
Although the play is firmly placed in the 80s – with references to the ZX Spectrum, Duran Duran, and former companions in Doctor Who – it derives most of its humour from jokes about getting older, nostalgia and satire of modern life rather than its setting.
The show is clearly a work-in-progress with wardrobe malfunctions and a few pauses while the duo try to remember the script. However, it is to the credit of MJ Hibbett and Steve that they are able to deftly coast through these mistakes with self-deprecation and humour.
Hey Hey 16K has no aspirations of trying to be a great work of art or dramatic production but it is quite refreshing to see a show which understands its audience and delivers exactly what is expected.
Watching MJ Hibbett and Steve feels like watching your dad perform except that he’s actually funny. Hey Hey 16K is a wonderful mess – funny, silly and disastrous at the same time.
(also named as one of their Picks Of The Fringe