Never would EMMA HATRED ever recommend this show.
Pembroke New Cellars, March 13-17. 9:30pm, £4-5
by Jamie Mathieson and Phil Liebman
This new sketch show from Tab stalwarts Jamie Mathieson and Phil Liebman comes with the vague selling point of being ‘like no other’.
As long as no other show has been poorly written, directed and acted then I can say they kept that promise. The evening was an unfortunate failure in every respect.
Never Have I Ever presents forty-five minutes of action: an abundance of live sketches (courtesy of the Pembroke Players) interspersed with pre-recorded vignettes that feature appearances from Mr Mathieson himself and Footlights veep Pierre Novellie, among others.
The AV interludes rarely provided an opportunity to laugh, and it seemed their main purpose was to distract the audience during scene changes – an objective achieved through deafeningly loud audio and half-obscured projections. But these technical elements comprised only a small part of the show; what contributed to its overall failure was a confluence of factors across every aspect of production.
Considering this dubious set of achievements it would be unfair to criticise the actors very harshly–but one could easily believe the whole troupe graduated from the Dick Van Dyke School of Accents. Certainly, it was hard to tell how much the script impacted the Players’ performance, so I must err on the side of kindness and assume the effect was not insubstantial.
Nevertheless, Robbie Aird was a particular perpetrator of overacting (an attempt to compensate for the lacklustre material, perhaps) whose flailing and bellowing made the scenes harder to endure than they otherwise would have been. Additionally, Simon Norman and Matt Pullen, aided by their relative lack of lines and stage-time, failed to make an impression at all beyond their ‘skills’ as voice actors, while Georgia Ingles and Fiona Stainer, though stronger overall and showing some promise in comedic acting, delivered most of their lines incomprehensibly quickly.
Further trouble lay in Never Have I Ever’s staging. The New Cellars felt too intimate a space to locate a performance of this kind: barely a third of the seats were filled, but the proximity of audience to actors meant the atmosphere was nevertheless claustrophobic. An extra metre or two between the front row and the ill-defined stage boundary would not have hurt. The set-up also saw the hapless tech guy in the best seat in the house while paying audience members were left craning to see the actors–and at times unable to see the show at all. This was compounded by the non-staggered seating and the baffling decision to seat the actors on the floor during a number of sketches.
But Never Have I Ever’s ultimate downfall was the writing, which was variously watery, impossible to follow, painfully predictable and more than simply ‘inspired by’ a sketch from two of Footlights’ most successful alumni. The audience, evidently eager to enjoy themselves, responded as enthusiastically as was realistic given the weakness of the material. This still left the majority in silence for most of the performance, and the occasional smattering of titters inevitably seemed more pitying than anything else. This was not helped by the show’s extended self-effacement gag, which, since every word was true (it really was “comedy”, not comedy), drowned the evening in pathos.
Since I wish I could have written a stronger review, I should mention that the show did have one small success. Never Have I Ever promised to ‘do bad things to [the comedy rulebook]’ and on this point I can assure you it delivered. The show is just not funny; spend your fiver elsewhere.