TOBY PARKER REES can finally love again, thanks to Care of Douglas.
Corpus Playroom, 16-20th November, 9.30pm. £5-6
Written & Performed by Lowell Belfield, Jason Forbes, Pierre Novellie, George Potts, Ahir Shah & Emma Sidi
I arrived almost exactly on time for this show, and it was still sold out. The result was an hour spent crouching on my saturnine haunches, peering resentfully over the heads of the punctual fucks filling all the Playroom’s lovely new seats. This is not conducive to a good review. Luckily for the punks that did it, however, this is the best sketch show I’ve seen in Cambridge or Edinburgh. If it can get five stars from a stiff-legged gloomsayer, imagine what it could get from a sprightly little thing like you.
It was a very friendly crowd, even by Cambridge comedy standards – people laughed when the house lights went down. Rather than buoying mediocrity, however, this automatic acclaim was in danger of deadening the nuances of some densely-written comedy. It is testament to the troupe’s ability to ride an audience reaction that very little got lost in the din. Jason Forbes and George Potts were particularly adept at leaving spaces for laughter; not too short that a punchline got frayed or too long that it became indulgent and lost the room.
The writing was not particularly daring in its subject matter or construct; the same tropes inherited from Cook & Moore, Fry & Laurie, Chris Morris etc. appeared here as elsewhere. What differentiates this show from the mulchy pack, however, is how dextrously they were employed.
The opening sketch, a Crimewatch skit, began with a dance so fantastically ridiculous it would be a degradation to translate it into words. This was followed by a monologue that managed to encompass more comic modes than an arts student can be expected to count. The sketch slowly expanded, more and more characters appearing, until a judicious conclusion at its peak left the audience nursing their whiplashed expectations.
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This was the feel throughout; everyone forcing as much as possible into every moment, not content to rely on a single device to get laughs. There were moments this was not the case; there was a short sketch that was basically Terrance and Phillip with Wikipedia instead of farts, for example, but these appeared helpfully at points when an exhausted audience needed something gentle. Nothing was allowed to drag. Potts’ turn as a dour northerner archetype, while hardly the most imaginative of concepts, was taken slowly ad absurdum with such a magnificent performance that it became one of the stand-out sketches.
Everyone involved brought a useful and well-mined skill-set to bear. Potts and Emma Sidi did excellent character work throughout, providing an important grounding for the unrelenting ridiculousness of the writing. Jason Forbes used his body like a funk Rowan Atkinson, and his voice like a late-period Peter Cook. Pierre Novellie and Lowell Belfield frequently amused by presence alone, and both showed a commendable restraint that neatly offset Forbes’ frenetics. Ahir Shah seemed to be most often required to play the straight man, possibly because he is the smallest and thus easiest to bully into it. He did a very good bit as a call centre-style emergency services voicemail, however.
Flaws were minor – swearwords sometimes felt edited in for the sake of it (the cunts) and two running jokes grew a little stale. They were tied up into a nicely Seinfeldian finale, however, and are therefore partially redeemed. Now, Now does not reinvent the sketch show, or redefine it. This is by no means Beyond the Fringe. The fact I’m even making the comparison, however, means it is one of the best things to happen to Cambridge comedy for some time.