This was no extended YouTube mockumentary: a critical PHOEBE LUCKHURST is enthralled by the duo’s polished and hilarious sketch show.
Howard Theatre, Downing, Thursday 3rd February, 7pm, £6-7
WATCH Phoebe’s interview with Totally Tom here.
Totally Tom’s YouTube mockumentary High Renaissance Man and its viral rival Gap Yah have in their success authoritatively demarcated a comedic territory that is totally closed to those outside a certain demographic. I fretted that their sketch show would be more of the same; upper-crust undergraduates with a looming vacuum where ‘self-awareness’ ought to be. Funny, yes: but only for those of us who attend universities where we encounter diluted versions of their caricatures face to face.
But this was not an extended version of High Renaissance Man: the duo confirmed that they are more than talented enough to construct and portray characters more nuanced than merely the Oxford/Bristol educated caricatures that they have direct experience of.
Firstly, every sketch was funny. Granted, their shows may remain awkwardly closed to a wider demographic, but here we saw material with a significantly wider appeal than High Renaissance Man. There was a professional polish to their performance, and the script manifested an acute perception of the character models (models, take note, not caricatures) that they were representing. This was evidenced in the impressive physical comedy of the sketches, every gesture, posture and glance was carefully managed. While one Tom was talking, your eyes were drawn sporadically and unconsciously to the silent Tom, whose rigid adherence to character complemented the other’s speech perfectly. They experimented with accents unfalteringly; they were good enough at West Country brogue to get away with that choice, so often merely the whim of a writer after been watching too much regional news.
Their material was inventive: a ‘Skins meets Schindler’s List’ teen-broadcast set in the Hitler Youth (entitled ‘Bratwurst’) overlaid the hyperbole of the former with the historical context of the latter. It was hilarious. The psychic medium’s extrication with the garrulous Geraldine employed comedy of repetition in more inventive ways than I have seen performed in many professional productions. One of the last scenes, between two Scottish brothers – the younger with a habit of spending all their grocery money on taking photos of himself in those small extortionate booths in shopping centres – made me choke on my own saliva I was laughing so hard. While this may indicate some personal physical malfunction, the audience hysterics suggested otherwise. The two girls snorting a few lines in the bathroom was perfectly conceived; as was the father’s speech at a 21st birthday party. Some may complain (again) that these two sketches required a particular social context – certainly present in the Howard Theatre, but perhaps not elsewhere – but to presume this is to underestimate the acuteness of the social commentary. Their transitions were natural, punctuated by short, dynamic musical interludes.
Totally Tom were fantastic – if this is the competition Cambridge hopefuls face upon graduation, Totally Tom are formidable opposition and presently, leagues ahead. Their writing is coherent; their performance was unfaltering. There were still a few seats in the Howard Theatre this evening; I trust there won’t be next time.