United Comedy, June 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

United Agents represent some of the biggest names in comedy; people like Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Saunders and James Corden.

But with a stable of newer clients to be nurtured, too, the company hosts regular showcase-slash-development nights in the Etcetera, a small theatre above a pub in Camden, North London – and June’s was, perhaps as one might expect, a rather mixed affair.

It opened with Patrick Turpin, dressed very oddly in too-tight, knee-length slacks, which went without comment but was an oddly distracting look. Odd is what he’s going for, though, in that awkward anti-joke way that’s so in vogue, and his set is a mix of non-gags that dissipate into wistful nothingness, and really corny lines which he oversells with deliberate irony. However, it feels like something of a cheat to write deliberately bad laddish comedy that ill-suits him, hoping to make a joke of how weak it is.

Elsewhere he seems to be channeling the dry embarrassment of more successful contemporaries such as Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal to be properly distinctive. That said, he’s a got a few good lines and nice ideas, such as his take on the Dave Gorman-like comedy quests, even if they don’t quite bear fruit. He’s definitely in the ‘work-in-progress’ category tonight.

Jessie Cave is best known as an actress – Harry Potter fans will know her as Lavender Brown – and there was a very thespian quality to her monologue about being dumped, arguing that doing the deed by text or email is actually not so brutal as face-to-face. She has a quirky take on the familiar old ‘desperate psycho ex-girlfriend’ persona, backed by her geeky aesthetic, but this seems more like an audition piece – where convincing characterisation is all, and occasional jokes are a bonus – than a laugh-out-loud comedy sketch.

Ginger and Black seem to have had a low profile of late, despite showing such promise when they first came on to the scene, so it is a treat to see them in action again. I say ‘action’, but Eri Jackson and Daniel Taylor have such an impeccable command of natural, downplayed performance that there is not a lot of energy here. That’s no criticism, their surly matter-of-factness works perfectly to draw out the grimly realistic wit in their well-paced songs and poems about Black’s ill-fated dates or Ginger’s naive political protesting.

True to the spirit of an age that’s given us ‘structured reality’ shows like Geordie Shore and TOWIE, it’s hard to tell if Georgina Brown is being a character, or herself. She’s a brassy East London/Essex girl full of forceful verve, generating laughs from her larger-than-life personality alone. But, man, the material is rotten: a long story about how her boyfriend ‘fucked a gypsy’ that’s a veritable Dresden of F and C bombs... so many expletives a Glaswegian alcoholic might ask her to tone it down a bit. It’s not true that swearing’s not funny, but this is cursing in place of wit, not as a reinforcement to it.

Finally, and rightfully headlining, super-slick and sketch quartet The Three Englishmen with a pacy, tight cavalcade of sketches and songs delivered with skill, gusto, and no small measure of old-fashioned arsing about. They are very close to Idiots Of Ants in that respect, and a blind test would make the two almost impossible to tell apart, but from their jolly Going To The Chapel intro to the ribald parade of badly-impersonated TV chefs that closes their brief set, the Englishmen show themselves to be quite the force of sketch comedy. They are not tearing up any rulebooks, but putting so much enthusiasm and professionalism into their performance that it’s impossible not to be won over.

Review date: 27 Jun 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Etcetera Theatre

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