O Camden Head pub comedy space. With your strange, L-shaped theatre and mock air conditioning. Ah, the smell of bodies in a cramped room. The fug of sweat and human crackling. Bliss. And heat blisters. On my damp ass. And now, some reviews.
Take Desire Away
As a literary critic A.E. Houseman was famously scathing, describing the process of combing texts for flaws as essentially ‘hunting for fleas’. Fortunately for Mansel David, creator and performer of Take Desire Away, I’m more a forgiving critic.
David’s love for his subject is obvious, and he looks great in his silky, silky cravat. Actually, he’s a good likeness. And if you appreciate Houseman- and there’s a lot to appreciate- then this is the show for you. But possibly only you.
Alternating between desk and lectern to deliver poems and letters, full of high-literary in-jokes, the show is inert. Despite the potency of Houseman’s wit, David’s remorseful sing-songy readings and the relentless drip of English phlegm makes Take Desire Away more of a museum piece than its subject deserves. Mansel David has a few fun moments engaging his hero’s rascally, eyebrow-waggling side, but the emotional power of the poetry, the flashing brilliance of humour in the prose, could have been given fuller reign. I think the show is ‘worthy’, though that may be damning with faint praise.
The economy seems fairly intact. It’s the stock markets and financial industry that’s hooped, but as the wealthy feel threatened by the instability of their magical world the rest of us have to be punished. And we seem happy to go along with it. The rich get richer and the rest of of us just shrug and say ‘Whaddaya gonna do?’ In Black Sunday we see characters from across this unravelling tapestry of Modern Society struggling to cope with its collapse. James, a successful banker, has been playing at least as fast and loose as his pin-striped brethren and consequently helps sink his bank. We see him get drunk as penance. Presumably the regular folks who lost their savings in his institution are feeling the pain as well. His wife Susan, a Tory politician selling the idea that the public are responsible for the crisis by not having the willpower to resist easy credit, is appalled. How will voters react to her being poor? It’s unthinkable! There are also artists, homeless, pensioners, cops and waitresses in this tale, but the whirl of story focuses on this nuclear meltdown family.
This is a full-length play, which I had not counted on and unfortunately had to leave at the interval. As such, I can’t really give a fair opinion, but I do think the constant breaks in the narrative to rearrange the furniture for the next scene severely disrupted the flow. Also, the writing is uneven. Whenever the socialites Francesca and Barbara appear the writing shifts into a higher gear. It could just be that Kate Tucker, who plays Francesca, as well as the sparring old lady Agatha, is such a sparkling performer she is able to improvise spectacularly. Certainly the scenes in which these rich, spoiled, clueless girls discuss the issues of the day are satirical gold.
Ernest but occasionally very funny. I wish I’d seen the rest.
Doggett and Ephgrave Project Project Stuff
There are many brilliant, inventive, breath-taking things theatre can do that television and film cannot. And there are many things Fringe theatre can do that ‘mainstream’ theatre won’t. Doggett and Ephgrave have decided to go their own way, demonstrating, in a live performance, what television does best: Presenting YouTube videos in a ‘Did You See That? Wasn’t That Funny?’ manner. They also cover amusing signs, the creepiness of 50 year-old pop songs and beards. There are funny bits in the show. Occasionally even from them. However, as a pilot for ITV2 I think they have stiff competition from Robert Webb.
Sketch comedy, for the sake of simplification beyond accuracy, is one of two things. Long, dragged out and squirmingly uncomfortable, or packed with punchy explosions of nonsense. That’s probably mostly untrue, but I’m going to run with it anyway. Northern Droll, who seem like six funny people, all part of the Sheffield University Comedy Revue which is attempting the engulf the Fringe with three shows this year, want to have their comedy both ways. It doesn’t work. And speeding through your lines as quickly as possible in the hopes that the audience will find the punchline funnier that way, assuming they can hear you, doesn’t work either.
Having said all that, there are some good moments. A few solid bones in the spine that can be tinkered on. When they calm down and enjoy themselves, when they sink into characters rather than spitting out their lines, Droll are funny. Of the lot, Red Headed Guy and Blond Lady are the best, because they calmly exude funny rather than sweat it out. Which is good because Blonde Lady, or Lizzie as she’s known in the world outside my shoddy memory, is also the writer of the preemptive zombie survival Fringe show, 10 Days Earlier. Fellow members of Northern Droll are also doing Friends With Benefit Fraud. But not Red or Blondie, so we’ll see.
Three Italians besotted with American music take a road trip from New York to Vegas- and land in court, spilling the cannellini beans to the judge. Raffaelle, Davide and Marco- I’ve decided to call them Elvis, Willie Nelson and Corporate Executive Looking Dude In 70s Reggae T-Shirt- are hilarious. The easygoing charm of Willie and the relentless bravado of CELDI70sRT-S’s storytelling carry the thinnest of plots. While the middle is looser than a sloppy risotto, overall this is an absolute gem of a show. More people need to see it, if only for the endearingly Zen Elvis. New word needed: Zendearing. The band/illegal aliens are relaxed and confident, even when (especially when) they don’t really know the lyrics and the music is fun. Short on story, long on character, Elsewhere is a beautiful place to be. And their Elvis fucking rules.
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