Review: The Next Round

QUINTIN LANGLEY-COLEMAN is very impressed by this new comedy, and enjoys the onstage bar.

Cambridge Corpus Tab Theatre

It must be known, I love pub quizzes. So when I wal­ked into The Next Round, I was instantly intrigued by the immersive atmosphere created by the working bar, where casual chat was taking place between the barman (Henry Wilkinson), a nun (Riss Obolensky) and a werewolf (David Matthews).

As I went to buy my drink from the bar, the nun tried to sell me some religious trinkets which in my haste I turned down, and the barman asked me whether I wanted to be in the quiz and if so what my team name would be. I furnished him with a name, and settled into my seat with my Magners, bubbling with excitement and glad to see the cast so in character. Then entered a clown (Lily Lindon) who made balloon animals for audience members, and soon thereafter the play began.

The story follows the nun, clown, and werewolf above with the addition of a recently heartbroken student (Colin Rothwell), and a cutthroat pubquiz sports-geek (Matt Bradley) as they struggle to win the prize against a professional team. Throughout, the barman made jokes that were so ‘unfunny’ they made you laugh. While it worked, this ‘funny-because-it’s-not-funny’ humour is always dangerous territory, and the laughter in the audience was never more than a quiet chortle.

Not your average nun.

There was a slightly botched costume change by Matthews, not surprising given the clawed gloves he was wearing, but it was leg-slappingly farcical and both he and his supporting actors went with it extremely well. There was a rendition of the most cringe-worthy romantic poem I’ve ever heard by Rothwell to the side of the Playroom I was not sitting in, but it was perfectly audible and the director made clever use of the space by having Lindon ‘give him a beat’ with the ukulele facing the other half of the audience.

The greatest entrance was by Wilkinson, whose voice and mannerisms were abrasively funny. However, he too must have thought so as he corpsed quite a bit, but never so much as to actually laugh out loud. This was by no means bad though, as the audience found huge hilarity in his suppressed smiles.

Special note should be made for Lindon, whose bipolarity was always credible. Matthews took a while to really get into his character, but once done so was refreshingly dry. Obolensky was amusing, though her range of expression seemed narrow. The only part where it was hard to understand the characters was in the final round, when they were running about the table filling in answers as fast as they could, as their words were scarcely audible so any jokes therein were lost.

A solid comedy, with standout performers.

Each character had a backstory sequence, and these were marvelously choreographed, which I cannot emphasise enough. Monologues have a propensity to be boring, but the movement contained in these was astounding and enthralling. The unison chanting of the demonic spirit of Mr. Smile (the Crocodile) was completely unnerving, and the cast slipped easily between their ‘pub-persona and their ‘backstory-extra’, without ever breaking character once.

Due to the audience involvement at the beginning I did think that it was to continue throughout, and I was a little disappointed that it did not, though that is a small point to be sure. All in all the production was one characterized by strong acting (with occasional hiccups) and an interesting, original idea that kept the story unpredictable, while at the same time punctuated with gentle mirth that made for a good show. I had a good laugh, and a drink whilst I was at it.

69% – an impressive 2.1