Dressing Down

NICHOLAS HULBERT is left chuckling long into the night with this quirky Cambridge sketch show.

| UPDATED Alex MacKeith Ben Pope cambridge comedy dressing down harry michell London Nicholas Hulbert The Lion and Unicorn

The Lion and Unicorn, 7.30pm, Sunday 28th July, £15/12

Dressing Down is fun, quirky, camp and absolutely stuffed with rich comic ideas.

Sitting with a couple of friends from my pre-Cambridge days in a rather small, poorly ventilated, studio space that went from uncomfortable to sweltering within ten minutes, I was worried: would Cambridge humour survive outside the bubble?

Thankfully, the crack team comprising of Alex MacKeith, Ben Pope and Harry Michell didn’t fail to deliver, giving us a show that – with a little more polish and trimming of some of the longer sketches – could easily win that fifth star by the time they move on to Edinburgh.

What really sells Dressing Down is the number of ideas that they’ve packed into each short sketch. That’s not to say that each one is overworked; each sketch, at any moment, is working on multiple levels. A skit about “Captain United Kingdom” being called on to rescue Captain America, for example, doesn’t end with one silly observation or idea – we continue to get riffs on British identity and international relations as well as the obvious superhero tropes. And if you don’t happen to catch something that gets you laughing in one sketch, then the sheer variety means you won’t be kept waiting long. This was made particularly clear in one (slightly bungled and excellently recovered) sequence in which a sweating Michell was still heaving an astronaut’s suit over his seashell bikini when the lights came up.

The cast were quick to remind us that this was only a preview and, in some respects, it did show. Scene changes often caught the cast half dressed (the narrative of the show relies on every character throwing on a new costume for each story) and some of the skits dragged – one in particular about a new X-ray machine lacked the range of the other sections. But the way the cast recovered from these slip-ups speaks volumes about their skill and professionalism, alternating between confidently buttering up the audience (Michell, on the astronaut incident: “My parents are in the audience tonight – this is what I did at university, mum!”), making a mockery of the slip-up, or simply plunging back into the action with renewed gusto.

There are other indications that this is a trio to be reckoned with: the humour is wonderfully absurdist but never inescapable, and while Dressing Down flirts with self-referential humour in both its overall narrative and in one or two of the sketches, it never descends into pretentious self-congratulation. Give MacKeith the space (especially when combined with Pope as straight man) and we’ll soon be poking inside a crazy and yet wonderfully executed character arc ranging from stage magicians to a day in the life of the Hungry Caterpillar.

Dressing Down is a show that plays to its strengths. Give these three the traditional format of a sketch show, and they’ll create a framing device so decidedly silly that it has me wanting to laugh all on its own. Put three of them in a room with an array of costumes, and they’ll be determined to try every single one of them on in under an hour, while never losing sight of the fact they’re there to entertain. Give them an hour of your time in a sweaty North London pub and they’ll have you chuckling long into the night.