String v Spitta review – children’s entertainers do battle

The world of children’s entertainment has provided a rich seam for comedians: see Justin Edwards’ alcoholic clown Jeremy Lion or the delinquent gameshow Funz and Gamez. The joke in those cases was inappropriate content purveyed to innocent audiences – which isn’t quite what Ed MacArthur and Ghosts star Kiell Smith-Bynoe are up to here, in a show that’s as delightful as those predecessors. String v Spitta instead dramatises (I use the world loosely) an arch-rivalry, between aristocratic Sylvester String, reigning king of the west London party circuit, and from-the-streets TikTok upstart MC Spitta, kids’ favourite and pretender to String’s throne.

TikTok kids’ fave ... Kiell Smith-Bynoe in String v Spitta.
TikTok kids’ fave … Kiell Smith-Bynoe in String v Spitta. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

We first encounter the twosome resentfully paired up at the sixth birthday of a Russian oligarch’s daughter – then flash back to the genesis of this odd-couple arrangement. Toffee-nosed String – think classical music and the smack of firm discipline – is losing gigs fast to a grime-toting east London arriviste. He proposes a partnership, the only way yesterday’s man String might stay in the game. The show is glancingly droll about entitled white men falling out of fashion, and – as the duo trade invective in song – sharply funny about the social scorn coursing between the silver-spooned and the barely fed.

After initial distaste for one another’s working practices (“the last time somebody in my family improvised,” says String, “it triggered a recession”), the show traces the pair’s tentative steps towards common ground. But this is an act more than a play, and plot is secondary to the fun MacArthur and Smith-Bynoe have turning this all out to their supposedly infant audience – and to the oligarch’s supermodel wife, the recipient of Spitta’s showstopping bump’n’grind serenade.

With no frills to the staging, the amplification a bit irregular, and the ending less of a climax and more of the same, there’s space for the show’s qualities to be brought into sharper focus. But it’s still great fun, as Smith-Bynoe, twinkle in eye, drops a few magic tricks, String becomes a convert to beatboxing, and the lyrics sample the songs and rhymes of school to fine comic effect. “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes above the rest!” may overstate the case – but only just.

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