Review: Hamlet – A Sketch Show

OLIVIA BELL is underwhelmed by this disappointing sketch show.

sketch show

Sketch shows are difficult.

They need to be both relevant and universal; ironic but fresh, satirical but with enough slapstick to counterbalance the darker references. And unfortunately, the balance between all these was just not reached by the talented, but underperforming, cast of Hamlet: A Sketch Show at Pembroke Cellars this week.

It feels cruel to attack a show that is so clearly put together in good humour. Pembroke Cellars is hardly known for its ambience, but the atmosphere was light hearted, intimate, and above all, friendly. There was hardly the professionalism on show that one would expect from, say, a Footlights International Tour, but the cast certainly seemed enthusiastic and excitable.

Unfortunately, this could not translate into a somewhat under-rehearsed but wooden script (made all the more obvious where one member would come it at the wrong time, stop speaking, and then continue on cue). Moments of genuine improvisation were on the whole a gasped breath of fresh air.

There were, though, some sketches that really hit the mark – the French waiter and his frustrated diner was hilarious, as was the unexpected twist – although unfortunately, this was revealed in such a lackluster way that it took most of the audience at least half a minute to realise the joke that had been made. This was, however, taken advantage of when the pair returned, for what was the loudest laugh of the night. Similarly, the tinker-tailor-soldier-spy chess sketch was witty and well-paced, although it dragged on perhaps past its prime.

This lack of timing that punctuated even the best moments was unfortunately symptomatic of the entire show, and was ultimately its downfall. Scene changes were sloppy and unclear; jokes were lost in rushed or too-slow dialogue, and delivery was in general simply unfunny. Having said that, the clear standout was Robert Eyers, who is definitely one to watch in the future of Cambridge comedy. His characterization was varied and well thought out; one was relieved whenever he took over the thrust of a sketch, confident that it would become infinitely more amusing.

He was ably assisted by Ed Elcock who, though fairly type-casted throughout the show, was confident and witty in his portrayal of predominantly posh outraged people. The two worked well together; their paired scenes were by far the funniest, and Rachel Tookey, although strong in her ‘Victorian wench’ moment, seemed unnecessary and weak compared to the rest of the cast.

The show simply didn’t live up to its premise. The Shakespeare reference was shaky, at best, and it seemed by the end almost ironic that the show laughingly described by Tookey as Shakespeare in the opening sketch as ‘sketchy’ was exactly that.

There are some flashes of promise that made one smile, and some moments of genius characterization, but ultimately this sketch show is just not worth the trek through the maze to Pembroke Cellars.

Two stars