Training Wheels: Review
‘Don’t think about what it is, think about what it could have been’, an early appeal made by a cast depleted from 11 to two
From the outset, it was apparent that there was something amiss about this freshers sketch show, and it wasn’t the fact that the first two faces onstage were not those of freshers. Rather, the fact that the first two faces onstage were the only faces on stage.
In the opening introduction, the names of all cast members are called out but only the same two individuals, Hoffman and Neary, could be seen prancing back and forth in a good-humoured demonstration to the audience that all is not well. Alas, the reality of student theatre this term, sometimes, through no fault of your own, you may find your cast decimated by the call of self-isolation.
Naturally, given this set of circumstances, a tough decision had to be made. A lesser cast and production team could have reasonably thrown in the towel at this point but it is to the great credit of all involved that they did not. The difficulties and set-backs were weathered with remarkable good humour, taking advantage of the circumstances for comic effect without relying on them too heavily.
The new, two person cast, enjoyed great chemistry and, by virtue of having fewer people onstage, did not look at all constrained by social distancing. In fact, by having to stand apart from one another, they simply made more use of the space. Lighting and set were also a point of strength for the show as the stage was constantly kept colourful and engaging.
Circumstances aside, training wheels is a witty, remarkably well written sketch show. Its fast-paced writing and snappy humour made the entire show thoroughly enjoyable. Particular highlights included Jonathan Neary’s early stand-up segment which offered a new and interesting take on religion, a difficult task for a subject so regularly tackled by stand-up comics.
Neary’s other standalone segments featuring a pirate HR manager and his own thoughts on time travel are equally well-written and enjoyable. Hoffman’s stand-up, which tackled freshers and icebreakers, fit the theme of the show better but, although amusing, it was in the sketches themselves which Hoffman really flourished. Hoffman bounced well off Neary and produced some genuinely funny material, in particular, a sketch in which they play the overprotective parents of a girl starting at university.
Huge credit must be given to the resilience and perseverance of Neary, Hoffman and the production team, and they should be proud of what they have managed to create under difficult circumstances. However, this show naturally fell a little short of what it could have been.
Training Wheels suffered, as comedies are increasingly beginning to suffer, from the lack of a live audience which causes even the funniest jokes to fall undeservedly flat. Some unsuccessful attempts to use canned laughter at the beginning of the show could potentially solve this problem if improved as the run progresses. Additionally, the show had clearly been forced to adapt from sketch show to stand-up and although this adaptation did work, it is a shame that we will not get to see the sketch show as it should have been.
Overall, Training Wheels is a show which undoubtedly makes the best of a terribly bad situation. A dedicated, though depleted cast, carries what’s left of this show over the line to ensure that all of the hard work of those isolating has not been in vain.
Feature image credit: Jonathan Powell