Admittedly, sketch shows aren’t something I’ve ever considered my cup of tea. Imagine my surprise, then, when presented with a smart, but not alienating, series of short, comedic sketches suspended by pleasantly self-aware actors with a great rapport. Sketchy Characters, the second show in New Theatre’s Fringe season, makes a brilliant attempt at incorporating high-brow comedy all the way down to simple slapstick in one collection.
The show describes itself as exploring ‘5000 years of human mediocrity’; and this it does. From the earliest Classic civilisations where Olympians ruled, to the somewhat exhausted superhero super-franchises, with little nods to Monty Python throughout (Politically-Aware Peasants, is that you I hear off stage?), Ian Sheard (Director/Writer) and Jamie Drew (Producer/Writer) bring some moments of golden comedy writing to the stage.
“Sheard and Drew managed to write sketches which really do walk the line of controversy, but never quite cross it.”
The superhero characters were some of the best, both written and acted. ‘Irony Man’ was a particular stand out, with his determination to protect the world against the weapons he’s created while all the while struggling with an alcohol addiction. Other great characters included ‘Captain Federated States of Micronesia’ having been out cold to the world for 7 weeks due to an alcohol-induced coma (there’s a theme appearing here) and David ‘The Bulk’ Bannerman, a regular guy just getting over a large amount of beta radiation poisoning which, when he gets angry, causes him to ‘bulk out’ and, well, ‘black up’. Sheard and Drew managed to write sketches which really do walk the line of controversy, but never quite cross it. Performances from Arnaud Lacey and Emma Kendall help pull these slightly risky moments off well, with just the right amount of sensitivity without it seeming uncomfortable.
With only six cast members, the production is impressively choreographed so that you never really notice. The individual sketches range from two to all six of the actors being present, so that the changes between scenes remain relatively seamless, and the performances all roll into each other, a key component to what makes this show so watchable. The actors brought a range of roles, and with minimal costume too. A jacket here, a ‘dodgy sock’ of a Christmas hat there, and, my personal favourite, a wearable cardboard cut-out of Thomas the Tank Engine, work to subtly enhance the performances. The real show, however, is created by the actors and their talents, albeit framed by slightly questionable accents. Especially entertaining performances came from Emma Kendall and Josh Battaliou, both of whom bring, simply, a natural talent for making themselves ridiculous. Some scenes were obviously more rehearsed than others, but the fast-paced nature of the show doesn’t really yield for too much rise and fall in quality.
“Especially entertaining performances came from Emma Kendall and Josh Battaliou, both of whom bring, simply, a natural talent for making themselves ridiculous.”
As previously mentioned, the show moves quickly, each sketch lasting no more than a few minutes, and the one that perhaps lasted longer than that was brilliantly meta about it: when challenged on it, Hades (played by the wonderfully exasperated Alice Simmons) replies ‘of course it is, this is hell’. Congratulations to the behind-the-scenes team, notably Sound Designer Joanne Blunt, who kept everything moving by way of small 15 second clips of relevant music.
An enjoyable, smart, and downright entertaining collection of pieces from an all-round talented group of people, Sketchy Characters deserves its praises: a great way to cheer up a gloomy Monday evening.
Sketchy Characters is running at The Nottingham New Theatre until Tuesday 17th November. For more information see here