Write-Offs: A Sketch Show
NANCY NAPPER CANTER gets right on with Write-Offs. She’s not very good at puns though.
Christ’s Yusuf Hamied Theatre, 21st-24th February, 9.30pm, £4-5
Written/Directed by Oliver Marsh, Zoe Tomalin, Nathan Gower
At the crux of Write-Offs is the question: what is funny? The writers’ drawing board suggests numerous possibilities: ‘Dyslexia?’ ‘Nuns?’ ‘Jokes?’ Happily, the evening’s rollicking performances provided an answer.
It begins with a frustrated outburst. The more aggressive of the two Muse-seeking comedy writers gives a damning verdict on the sketches they’ve cobbled together so far: ‘No! No! No! Maybe.’ Thankfully, the meta-theatre ends there: it by no means describes Write-Offs itself. Yes, there were a few ‘Maybes’, maybe. But they were sporadic, unobtrusive. And best of all, there were no ‘No!’s.
The beauty of a good sketch-show is that once you’ve won the audience over, they’ll giggle at whatever joke you throw at them. For me, that weird Pavlov’s-Dog-Syndrome went even further. I cracked up whenever Tom Foxall even walked on stage. First as psycho vet, – ‘your cat is pathologically fugly!’ – later psycho schoolboy, and then notably as psycho game-show host – ‘Scoregasm!’ – Foxall was irresistibly amusing. OK, he didn’t show a lot of range. But he played ‘psycho’ to such comedic effect that the lack of variety didn’t bore. It just meant we were never disappointed.
The whole cast shone. Miharu Obata was pitch-perfect, whether playing TV chef or octopus. Zoe Tomalin gave a particularly funny rendition of a mustachioed Victorian male. And Pete Skidmore’s wit was a joy to behold. His fire-safety talk simply lit up the entire theatre. (GEDDIT?) The pun-fans among you will enjoy Write-Offs. The pun-sceptics probably will too. The cast was so endearing, they’d beguile the most ardent pun-hater into chuckling at the word ‘firony’.
Having said that, ‘2b or not 2b’, and ‘I am Big Pentameter’ certainly provoked groans. But these were – I think – groans of solidarity rather than of genuine irritation. That’s the sneaky thing about metacomedy. The constant presence of the (often vexed) sketch-writers, anxiously pointing out the flaws in one another’s jokes, effectively forestalled any criticism of the sketches themselves.
The intermittent ‘writer’ interludes, however, were occasionally underwhelming; the sheer energy of the sketches rendered them a little flat. Also, even given the context, I’m not sure the ‘I’m not racist but…’ joke needs another airing. But these are minor complaints.
Write-Offs has everything you’d want in a sketch show. It has music, it has metatheatre, and it definitely has more than one girl. What’s more, it manages all this without being pleased with itself. It’s funny without being smug: in this city, that’s something special.