Odds and Ends

JAKE ARNOTT finds some odd ends which need tying up.

ADC alex gomar charlie merriman Comedy Harry Porter Prize jake arnott Joey Batey odds and ends Theatre

ADC, 14th-18th March, 11pm, £5-6

Directed by Arthur Kendrick

[rating: 3/5]

Odds and Ends has clearly been written by a very funny man. Joey Batey’s jokes come thick and fast from start to finish, served up with perfect timing by an energetic and committed cast, and they are, as jokes should be, frequently very funny.

The play very rarely has pretentions to being anything other than a string of well-executed gags, so it would be unkind to judge it on any other basis. But as the cast pointedly reminded us last night, to the great delight of the (predominately ADC-in-crowd) audience, The Tab is not in this business to be kind.

The play lacks any sense of drama. Every development in the story, including the revelation that the prisoners are to be shot at dawn, exists solely to artificially twist the plot in the direction of Batey’s next gag. Towards the end of the play, vague gestures are made in the direction of poignancy, but the weakness of these moments has been noticed either by the writer or the director, and they are swept under the rug to make way for yet more gags.

The fact that no part of the play has any clear purpose is in some ways a strength – there is absolutely no let-up in the stream of set-up and pay-off, and the production refuses to be pinned down to any particular comic genre. Word-play, sight-gags, surrealism, slapstick, caricature and farce all combine with the sole aim of smacking your funny bone in the face as frequently as possible, but it felt as consumable and disposable as a TV sketch-show. For all the laughs, it missed that element of engagement that makes you bother shelling out for a theatre ticket.

That said, there was no element of the production that didn’t show promise. Joey Batey, with time or some decent co-writers, is evidently going to write some brilliant stuff. The cast, bolstered by an indulgent audience, brought the script to life and were obviously enjoying themselves. However, the lack of characterisation meant that each actor, rather than having a solid character, ended up playing a confusing collage of comedic tropes. Charlie Merriman played Steve impeccably as straight man to the surreal unpredictability of the others, but sometimes felt like a wearied Martin Freeman wandering haplessly through the world of The Mighty Boosh. Alex Gomar stood out as Private Dan, the play’s funniest role and its most coherent element. A character of indomitable high spirits and irreverence, the play seems to have been written around his anarchic presence, to the detriment of other characters, who often seem little more than foils to Dan and to one another.

For student writing, its best jokes are outstanding, but it needs either to escape the immature belief that jokes are enough to make a play worth watching, or prove that they are by trimming out the duds and tightening up loose ends. It was a pity that such wit should fizzle out, but the characters could only stay alive as long as Batey could think of jokes.