Messin' With Mr Trellis

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Indiana Jones is the top movie at the box office, Take That are the big stars of pop and Doctor Who is a staple of Saturday-night TV. It might as well be the Eighties again.

Not wanting to see such a nostalgia bandwagon trundle by without leaping on to it, Ardal O’Hanlon, Kevin Gildea and Barry Murphy re-formed their early sketch group, Mr Trellis, a once-influential force in the nascent Irish alternative comedy scene, for just one night at the Cat Laughs comedy festival in Kilkenny.

The result was a chaotic car-crash of cheap props, ill-fitting wigs and forgotten lines as three middle-aged men desperately tried to recapture their youth, but without the zest to do so.

And it was absolutely hysterical.

They are all very well-established comedians now, secure enough in their talents to be able mess around freely. The result was a Knockabout delight, infused with an unquenchable spirit of gang-show fun created by men who are surely old enough to know better, acting with carefree stupidity.

The audience were on-side from the get-go, keen to enter into the spirit of the occasion, and the trio – Murphy especially – milked the goodwill expertly, generating a pantomime spirit of playful involvement that transcended anything that was happening on stage.

But the quickfire sketches that survived 20 years of unreliable memory also stood the test of time impressively well. Younger audience members might have been baffled by what inspired the daft spoofs of Tales Of The Unexpected, ancient TV adverts or old RTE magazine-style shows – but the results were so hilarious in their own right, that knowledge of the reference points was unnecessary.

There was a strong sense of tongue-in-cheek surrealism running through most of the old material; with scenes such as Films Recreated By Synchronised Swimmers, Famous Plankton Murders, or O’Hanlon’s clearly cheating magician.

The night was billed as Mr Trellis and friends and ,on the whole, the guest acts didn’t disappoint. Ian Coppinger led an inspired bit of improvisation with Gildea, imagining some bizarre correspondence with a Finnish cheese expert; while Dom Irrera’s creation Fritzi Anderson reduced the room to fits of laughter with his bitter old-school US comedian, cracking a relentless stream of racist bar-room jokes, interspersed with stock lines about why they were falling flat: ‘Is this thing on?’

The only guest who struggled was the usually reliable Fred MacAulay – invited as he hosted the heat of new act contest So You Think You’re Funny? Mr Trellis once triumphed at. Wrong-footed by an early, mean-spirited heckle, his easy-going conversational stand-up proved an uneasy fit with the infectiously manic energy pervading the rest of the show.

He was the consummate pro against the Trellis trio who always acknowledged their shambolic amateurism and played up to it, milking every missed cue and running-order confusion. During one such stall, O’Hanlon reprised the Father Ted song My Lovely Horse, to the delight of the audience, who were word-perfect with the lyrics.

But this wasn’t a show that relived old glories, rather a spirited celebration of stupid glee that would more than hold its own against such new pretenders as We Are Klang or Pappy’s Fun Club.

Kilkenny attracts the best club stand-ups in the world; but there was unlikely to be anything funnier in the whole festival than these ill-prepared performers’ faltering shenanigans. No wonder a show like this only comes along once in every 20 years…

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Kilkenny, June 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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