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Review: The 23-Hour Sketch Show

A quickly-written, quick-fire show

The 23-Hour Sketch Show was performed as a one-off at the ADC Theatre on 14th March by 30 writers and actors, who had just 23 hours to prepare. Sorted into five teams, they had the space of a day to construct sketches around a series of prompts and specified constraints.

One of the standout features of this show was the persevering and faultlessly professional attitude of the cast and crew when confronted with various issues. From the constant heckling by an extremely drunken and rowdy section of the audience (FYI guys, if you’re reading this, learn some basic courtesy soon please) to multiple tech failures, the cast managed to maintain their composure, and put the hecklers in their places.

I was very impressed by the number of sketches which showed a lot of thought and had a lot of potential. A few stand out, particularly those based around celebrities: Anne Robinson showing off her ‘masculine legs’, Nick Clegg telling us his life story in monologue, and Steve Irwin meeting with a stingray (the latter sketch leading an audience member to shout out ‘too soon!’… It was a poignant moment: comedy or just tragedy?). The ‘I’m a Celebrity’ spoof was perhaps the most well-conceived sketch and was long enough to develop a little backstory and convincing characterisation for all the cast.

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'What happened to Anne Robinson?' credit: BBC

The time constraints inherent in a 23-hour sketch show meant that quite a few of these great ideas were presented in an unpolished (and dare I say sub-par) manner. I would love to see a show written by the same group, but with considerably more time to polish their ideas. The lack of rehearsal time also became evident in the number of technical hitches and producing errors which became more frequent over the course of the show, culminating in a wonderful musical number about Cindies closing down… which, save for the word ‘Vinyl’, was entirely drowned out by a massively over-amplified keyboard. Whether this was a comment on then-poor calibre of Cindies’ music system, or simply an error from the producers and sound team, I couldn’t say. (In a meta- sort of way, the overall effect was actually quite funny…)

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Some cast prepare a musical number. credit: the 23-Hour Sketch Show

The comperes were notable for their smooth handling of transitions, and their generally amusing banter, which appeared to be improvised. Generally, the structure of the 23hr sketch show made its various components hard to remember, as the rapid procession of sketches and groups meant that there was no opportunity to construct a cohesive narrative, or create a relationship between the cast and audience. Nonetheless, the end result was very entertaining: more fast-paced, quick-fire; and with no hint of the lull typically said to be inevitable forty-or-so minutes into most comedy shows.

It’s a little criticism that can often be said even of some bigger, ‘rehearsed’ shows – but sometimes, and certainly of a consequence of their stringent time restrictions, the teams did tend to over-rely on easy writing tactics. Some sketches that tended towards the absurd simply had no punchlines – they were just odd. Others were solely pun-based: these, unsurprisingly, almost wholly fell flat with the audience. Sketches with just pun after pun felt like lazy time-fillers; which was unfortunate, given that the final team were cut short because of a lack of time.

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The cast warm up… credit: the 23-Hour Sketch Show

On which note, it was a shame that the last team were rushed out due to the show over-running, since, as the comperes mentioned, they had worked hard all day and had prepared some sketches that weren’t able to see the light of day – and what they did perform actually had a lot of potential! What’s more, the team’s theme and prompts weren’t announced to the audience, which probably detracted from our enjoyment of their material.

This was a really enjoyable evening, and it can’t be emphasised enough how amazing it was that everyone involved had pieced together a full show in less than a day – despite some inevitable patchy bits, and other blemishes that were no fault at all of the performers, it really has to be said that certain sketches were still funnier than many rehearsed student comedy pieces I’ve seen. A doff of the hat to the whole cast and crew!

3.5 Stars