Arts Reviews

STUFF: Tyrannosaurus Sketch @ Nottingham New Theatre

With bad puns, excellent acting, and a disappointing lack of dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus Sketch has it all! Well, apart from the dinosaurs. Impact Arts reviews this ambitious sketch show written by Nottingham students Jamie Drew and Ian Sheard (and also starring the latter), and produced by Joanne Blunt, ahead of its official launch at this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

Tyrannosaurus Sketch is full of contradictions and its title is no exception. Is it a show made up of a number of different sketches, with little or no overall plot? Yes, though certain characters do recur. Do any of these sketches have anything at all to do with dinosaurs? Unfortunately, no. Is it a play full of puns, and if so, are these any good? Well…

These contradictions unfortunately continue in the quality of the comedy. There are some amazing puns, set pieces, and sketches throughout, with a couple of personal highlights being the short and sweet ‘500 Miles’ sketch, and the genius ‘White Army’ sketch, both of which make the play worth seeing alone. Indeed, the personification of chess pieces in the latter is charming, and is matched by the equally brilliant realisations of Thomas the Tank Engine. The funny, if not entirely PC, humanisation of the planet Earth, also provides some brilliant slapstick comedy amongst some otherwise dry dialogue.

“There are a few highlights in the ‘Bulk’ sketch”

Unfortunately, this mix of quality continues throughout the play. All of the superhero sketches, and there are a lot of them, which seem to be running off from Marvel’s success at blending action and family-friendly humour, are painfully unfunny. Though there are a few highlights in the ‘Bulk’ sketch (spoiler: he’s called ‘Bulk’ because it sounds like ‘Hulk’), this particular sketch plays it uncomfortably close to the mark with claims of false allegations of racism and the apparent endorsement of certain stereotypes. While here the playwrights appear to be trying to inject some political parody into the play (with scriptural self-reference in the line ‘Are you asking me to condone stereotypes?’), this doesn’t exactly come across in the performance. And when it becomes clear why there were so many superhero sketches (they all come together at the end, a la The Avengers, in a slow, but ultimately satisfactory, ending), the feeling can’t be shaken that perhaps they would have been better off left out completely.

“Tyrannosaurus Sketch features some spectacular actors”

However, when the play shines, it really does shine. Tyrannosaurus Sketch features some spectacular actors, especially the energetic Sam Peake, and Daniella Finch, who plays the most amazing Bag for Life I have ever seen (and, on a more serious note, an amazing stereotypical slapstick director who appears occasionally in the play’s greatest running gag). Unfortunately, some of the actors did not suit their characters so well, with Elis Edhem’s only believable performance being when she played an irritable secretary in a mildly amusing, if not entirely necessary, sketch. Further, Ian Sheard’s resounding dramatic “No!” in one of the sketches is cheesier than Darth Vader’s scream at the end of Episode III, and if this was supposed to come across as parody, it certainly didn’t feel like it, though his acting remains fairly solid elsewhere.

“Early on, we get arguably the best version of an Oedipus/mother-f**ker joke of all time”

I’m baffled to see how some sketches made the cut (there is a strange Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter crossover sketch which would have been better left out), but I’m glad some were left in for their one-liners alone. Early on, we get arguably the best version of an Oedipus/mother-f**ker joke of all time, and apparently profanity is a winner for this reviewer, because an excellent delivery of “You f**ked it up, daddy” had me in stitches during an otherwise dull scene.

Throughout, however, there is an uncomfortable mix of old anachronisms mixed with cutting contemporaneity – while references to Michael Jackson’s allegedly recent death and Gotye’s apparently recent hit song ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ had me scratching my head and took me out of the performance. However, I appreciated the playwrights’ attempts to shoehorn in topical issues, notably #freethenipple and low-key digs at an unelected government.

“It was delightful light entertainment, and definitely featured some genuine moments of comedy gold”

Tyrannosaurus Sketch was not perfect, but it was delightful light entertainment, and definitely featured some genuine moments of comedy gold (mined by Michael McIntyre’s employees, apparently, in another excellent sketch). If James Drew and Ian Sheard keep up what they’re doing, and learn to cut out some of their weaker scenes, they have bright futures ahead of them indeed.


Matteo Everett

Image courtesy of the Nottingham New Theatre

STUFF is running at the Nottingham New Theatre until Wednesday 15th June. For more information and to book tickets, see here.

‘Tyrannosaurus Sketch’ will also be appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from Friday 5th August until Saturday 27th August. For more information and to book tickets, see here.

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