LOUIS SHANKAR was impressed by this new writing from a group of freshers which shows promise, but doesn’t quite fulfil its potential.
As we entered the Pembroke New Cellars, the ‘cast’ were still busy ‘rehearsing’. Why the inverted commas? The whole show took the form of a pilot episode being recorded, with the (real) actors each playing (fictional) actors in a new, generic sitcom. Like Episodes, basically, but a play.
I have to admit, I didn’t fully understand this initially. Sitting through the first ten minutes was almost painful: the jokes mostly fell flat, the American(?) accents were atrocious, the physical comedy was as obtuse as physically possible.
But then The Director (the superbly sharp Anna Fisher) yelled, “Cut!” and everything became much clearer. We were introduced to failed comedian Stuart Brown, RADA trained Margot Beaufort de’Bever (darling), and the cute couple Ivan and Frankie. Behind the camera, the humour was more sincere, with genuine drama surrounding some of the characters.
When the sitcom itself started again, the obvious and unoriginal humour became clever satire, especially of the caricatured American sitcoms such as The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. The generic characters gained a new depth as we understood their ‘real-life’ counterparts. The acting was still pretty terrible, but now in such a way that it was deliberately funny.
A contrived storyline featuring a job interview, a new neighbour and a failed relationship went quickly awry when the cast’s off-camera relationships started to intrude. The hilarious climax involved a snakebite, some partial and simulated fellatio (sounds bizarre but it mostly works).
Each of the (genuine) cast members gave strong performances but I think special mention should go to Patrick Wilson for his Dougie/Frankie: he managed a fitting balance between the disgusting, the funny, and the sincere (as well as directing the play itself).
As a piece of new writing, it was well done but felt lacking. There were a lot of jokes deliberately so bad that they were funny, but the script could’ve done with some more genuine jokes: too often we were laughing at them (intentionally so, it should be said) rather than with them. I was rarely laughing heavily, more just chuckling along. There was some very clever satire mixed in, though, on top of the odd cynical reference to Cambridge and the Footlights.
It also dragged on somewhat: many of the jokes were repeated without adding anything new. A few of the deliberately awkward punchlines got no response whatsoever. And the performance was riddled with little faults, from slipped lines to botched cues and some unnecessary improv when things went slightly wrong. The pacing was odd at times too, with incredibly short scenes that left us wanting more.
A suddenly severe monologue from The Director at the end illuminated the intention of the play, questioning the border between art and life, comedy and banality. It was very powerful stuff, but did go on a bit and felt too out of place compared to the rest of the show.
The writers of this show have some real potential, even if it’s not fully realised quite yet. Their acting and comic timing needs a bit more work, and the script requires some refinement, but it’s an enjoyable show. Original, clever and witty, I’m sure this lot will go far.
57%, a strong 2.2