Edinburgh Review: The Occasional Students

JASON FORBES: “At times the acting was awkward—sometimes non-existent—and the illusion broken by the odd surreptitious glance towards the audience.”

cambridge comedy Comedy edinburgh Edinburgh Fringe forbes james garner jason occasional Occasional Students Sketch Students thom jenkins tom foxall

Edinburgh Fringe: C Central, until August 21st

Written by Thom Jenkins, James Garner & the cast

Just like a good soufflé—stick with me and let’s indulge in the pretence of it all, if only for the purpose of the metaphor—sketch comedy is hard to get right. A hotchpotch of writing, ideas and performance, one could theorise endlessly as to which of these three is the more important element. What’s certain, though, is that, consciously, or subconsciously, at the beginning of each sketch, each audience member inevitably commits himself to a game of Spot-The-Joke. It’s the precarious soufflé-out-of-the-oven moment, where, if you’re not quick enough, if you haven’t quite grasped the audience’s attention, the soufflé is doomed to fold. Now, I’ll admit I’ve never actually had, or seen, a soufflé per se, but I hope that makes things a little clearer.

Written by recent Christ’s graduates and performed by first years, The Occasional Students was occasionally very promising. There was some good writing, some good ideas and some occasionally commendable performances; but all too often in disparate measure.

In the dim, soporific intimacy of the venue, sketches such as Death at a peaceful Seventh Seal game of chess with Napoleon, soon turning into a game of Scrabble presided over by the ghost of Dr. Johnson, were different and imaginative but failed to go anywhere. The writers evidently have a knack for abstract concepts, which might have been complemented by better structure.

My particular favourite, if only for the premise, was the party sketch. In this Charlotte Jeffreys played an eager host who tried desperately to entertain her guests. Among them was Google, who at her command scurried off to fetch her various results in a flash; Bing, who was made to feel unwelcome and no match for Google; and Facebook, played by Lizzy Carr as an overzealous reporter, complete with notebook, who pried into and recorded the lives of the people both within and without the party.

Even more compelling was the way in which Jeffreys became dangerously intrigued by this mysterious “Facebook”. When invited to comment on the News Feed, she replied that she wanted to say “something witty that doesn’t make me sound like a dick”. Sound familiar?

The word soufflé is the past participle of the French verb souffler which means "to blow up" or more loosely "puff up"

At times, though, the acting was awkward—sometimes non-existent—and the illusion broken by the odd surreptitious glance towards the audience. The most awkward was the final skit about a dodgy vet, who developed unhealthy relationships with his patient-pets. The “joke” was far too obvious and poorly executed to work at all, and was certainly not one to end on. I kept wishing that the sketches were played with no less enthusiasm, but certainly more confidence and conviction.

The others might do well to take a leaf from the book of Tom Foxall, whose mad, camp energy, confidence and comedic timing were enough to tease the funny out of even the simplest of lines. His performance in the Mafia and advertising sketches was impeccable. Perhaps over the run conviction will come to what is the very nascent form of a potentially good show. So far, however, the soufflé has been out of the oven for too long.

Click here to read Rob Smith’s review of the Cambridge run.

Click here to read the exact opposite of Jason’s review.