I’m ashamed to admit that in my entire Fringe this year, I only managed to watch three sketch shows (not counting the one I was in every night, obviously). Looking at how different they all were to each other, I guess it’s sort of unfair to lump them in the same bracket – but I had to pair them for my review somehow!
So, I’ll start with Casual Violence’s free show, Om Nom Nom Nominous. Perhaps it’s wrong, but from the offset I had two strong feelings about this show: firstly, yay! It was being held in Voodoo Rooms! (In case you’ve never been – it’s a beautiful, opulently decorated bar with an even more opulent cocktail menu. My drink had gin, earl grey and rhubarb puree in it, and came in a glass welly. I KNOW). Secondly, ugh. What an irritating moutful of a name. But I diligently squeezed into the packed venue with my friends – I was practically standing behind the bar for the whole show – and had my first viewing of this five star sketch group. Om Nom Nom Nominous (god, it’s even a pain to type) is billed as the best of Casual Violence, so it provides the perfect taster of their exaggerated style and dark, surreal sense of humour. Perhaps it’s because this combination isn’t to my taste, but I barely laughed in the whole hour and couldn’t believe how many people in the room were pissing themselves. Before you accuse me of being carried away by jealousy at their success, I’ve narrowed my issues down into three categories. 1) Quite often original ideas and funny characters are ruined because the group allow them to run on far too long, as with the young chimney sweeps sketch (lasting about 10 minutes), or the author of the Mr Men series futilely attempting to invent new characters. 2) Other sketches are given a supposedly dark twist at the finish, as when the royal food taster leading a training session kills himself over a lost love, but this format wears thin after a few repetitions. 3) The odd desperate and unoriginal attempt to make the audience laugh from awkwardness – as in the graphic confession of one character to his long-distance girlfriend that he’s had sex with a pillow. Whatever your opinion of the material, it’s hard to fault the performance – Casual Violence are full of energy and confidence (which they should be, having featured on BBC Radio) and clearly enjoy themselves. When they’re not performing though, they stand at the side of the stage and laugh conspicuously, which I found quite irritating – they will have seen those sketches hundreds of times, after all.
Since my claws are out, I’ll continue. When I saw the entry for The Canon: A Literary Sketch Show in the Fringe guide, my eyes lit up. A show uniting my love/knowledge of literature and sketch show experience! It might as well have had my name in the title! My excitement grew as I arrived at C Too and saw the members of No Mean Feet immersed in books – at desks, sprawled on sofas, nestled in cushions – while Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights played in the background. It was like the library I’d always dreamed of having, and proves a versatile, interesting set for the sketches. Sadly though, anticipation is often better than the thing itself. While presenting a good range of works and authors, I found that overall this show is marred by silliness. A female character visiting a library to finally withdraw a sought-after book – personified in one of the male performers wearing a jacket covered in pages – ends up making out with him on the floor. Jane Austen, sat at a desk, reels off a list of words beginning with P until she hits on ‘Pride’ – every time she gets stuck, she reels off swear words. In an innuendo-riddled scene at Byron’s castle, Mary Shelley is accused by her husband of sleeping with their host, so she pretends to have been discussing the concept for Frankenstein to cover up their affair. It may seem like intellectual snobbery, but I expected a show about literature to make intelligent jokes (though I did enjoy their portrayals of a mad James Joyce, and a dejected, overlooked Anne Bronte). But for a sketch group with an equal number of male and female members (something which can’t be said of Casual Violence or my own group), I was disappointed that they portray female characters so negatively – even a running gag about the male members mistaking the girls for objects such as chairs or coat hooks didn’t make up for it. Above all, I thought that as the creators of a show about literature, No Mean Feet must be book lovers like me. So the sight of them tearing pages from books and scattering paper over the stage was an unpleasant shock. It may have only been a science textbook, and it may have been for the sake of art, but I just can’t cope with seeing books destroyed.
Right. Claws are away now. I can safely promise that my next review will be glowing with positivity.