Sheeps Festive Bash

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Sketch trio Sheeps must have been good boys this year, since Santa delivered them an impressively full house at the 800-seat Union Chapel for last night’s festive special... not bad for an outfit with little public profile. But having Mark Watson, Tim Key and David O’Doherty among their little helpers, plus a house band in the form of the Horne Section, must surely have helped.

The threesome threaded a flimsy seasonal yarn like so much threadbare tinsel between the guest spots, creating a world of apparent long-standing Yuletide traditions, such as the blue-suited Papa Boost distributing chocolately treats. Cynical Alastair Roberts thought it all endemic of the rampant commercialiasm ruining the season of goodwill. Could his friends Daran Johnson and Liam William induce the true spirit of Christmas into their Grinch-like chum? If you need an answer, you have much to learn about dramatic resolution...

All good middle-class boys – ex-Cambridge Footlighters, no less – Sheeps at times sound like any off-the-peg Radio 4 sketch team of the past 30 years. But they play this very well, with strong writing that provides the distinctive quirks their personas often lack. Cheesy set pieces are well-played, they have marvellous attention to detail, and there’s another welcome outing for their calling-car routine imagining, if you can contemplate such a thing, a musical based on Oliver Twist. In all they created a successful pantomime spirit which ran through the night.

First of the guests was Watson, appearing from the massive pulpit centre stage. He’d been asked to appear as something Christmassy, so went for the ‘borderline blasphemous’ Jesus Christ... though being his easily distracted self, he barely touched his supposed character.

Instead, he showed a glimpse of dissatisfaction with the life of a comedian, sort of announcing a kinda semi-retirement, in that obtuse way of his. But as others have found before, well-channelled disillusionment can fuel artistic renaissance, and with fewer cares to how he is received, Watson showed a slight more prickly side to his normal bonhomie; a bit more of an edge to his still-playful shtick. If he’s serious about withdrawing from comedy, that would be a loss, especially as the extra honesty is kicking in.

I’d be less sad to see Oyster Eyes go... they seem like drama school try-hards, thinking silly voices, camp costumes and ill-fitting wigs are enough for comedy. Their surrealism, though, is just a mash of random words, not the charmed strangeness of this genre at its best. They later returned for a supposed spoof of ‘whoopsie!’-style Seventies sitcoms that had neither grace nor wit.

Kieran and Joe were patchy, but they definitely have talent. Their long-winded ‘intervention’ sketch involving an audience victim was all hoopla and too little content, the occasional sharp aside notwithstanding; but their story about holiday niggles provided some exquisitely funny lines for the magnificently dim-witted Kieran.

In the second section provided a highlight of any bill, the tragically sozzled children’s entertainer Jeremy Lion performing his increasingly inebriated version of the 12 Days Of Christmas, as his patient pianist Hilary tries to keep him on track. As always, Justin Edwards delivers a pitch-perfect performance, the insanity becoming funnier with each verse, magnified by the repetition of his struggles with the lyrics, making this a real Christmas gift.

Tim Key produced a special seasonal set, too, though with their underlying tone of mundane tragedy you would hardly call his collection of poems ‘festive’. Yet there’s a blunt beauty to his verses that makes them unexpected – and funny – and delivered with such a distinctive matter-of-factness that nicely underplays the impact.

The third section began with a reappearance of all the guests to help resolve the Sheeps’ Christmas crisis, before being given over the the delights of David O’Doherty - who, like Watson, seems to be increasingly flavouring his act with some gritty realism. ‘Holy shit, as we sit here, we’re all slowly fucking dying’ is not the sort of opening gambit you expect from a man known for ‘low-energy musical whimsy’. Later, as he contemplates the collapse of a relationship, he lies on the floor wallowing in his failure to be a real man, especially compared to the lives of his dad’s generation in their mid-thirties.

But the bleakness is only there to be laughed in the face of, and DOD leaves us all chuckling as the band kick into the farewell number.

Review date: 18 Dec 2012
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Reviewed at: Union Chapel

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