The Canon: A Literary Sketch Show

HANNAH MARCUS and ALEX LAAR enjoy a patchy evening of literary humour.

Cambridge Canon Comedy Corpus Playroom Shakespeare Sketch

Corpus Playroom, 9.30 PM, January 14th-18th, £6/5

It often seems a prerequisite of Cambridge sketch shows to include a highbrow literary pun that can be knowingly chuckled at by the smugger members of the audience. The Canon: A Literary Sketch Show is unique in that it consists solely of this kind of humour. The result is a highly irreverent but largely entertaining round up of key literary figures – from Shakespeare to Stephanie Meyer. The audience enters to a much appreciated playing of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, and after some unfortunate but well –dealt with technical difficulties, the puns came thick and fast.

Of course, it isn’t perfect. The Shakespeare humour – possibly the most accessible to a general audience – was also the least funny. The inclusion of ‘Bill’ Shakespeare’s stand-up in a sketch based show seemed invasive and somewhat irritating, though he garnered quite a few laughs for a comparison of Hamlet and the Lion King. It also turned out that it is possible to make a pun of ‘To be or not to be’ in over eight different ways – scattered throughout the show, this was not necessarily a good thing, with the last occurrence eliciting an audible wince.

That said, most of the production was highly enjoyable, and often very funny. All the performances were strong, with certain characters standing out. The ‘other’ Bronte sister was a well-conceived concept which was carried out with increasingly hilarity through various sketches. The crazy supervisor who ate his student’s essay and later drove his student to tears with a series of horribly familiar questions culminating in ‘What are “words”?’ was bizarre, but hysterical. Indeed, the stranger the sketch, the stronger it tended to be – for example, who’d have thought that Robert Frost might need a rapping hype man?

At its weakest, this show uncomfortably trod the line between knowing all the gags before they were actually spelled out, and being too obscure for a general audience, but that said, there were many moments where it proved witty, original and totally unexpected. Inventive and varied use was made of a sparse set and the show as a whole proved consistently entertaining. The final sketch, comparing the life of an English student and scientist was worryingly accurate, but also highlighted the truth about the show.

If you like books, you will probably enjoy it, and if you do study English, you can probably find something to include in an essay – and then that’s your work for the day done as well.