The Peculiar Case of Kemsley and Todd | Review by Steve Bennett
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The Peculiar Case of Kemsley and Todd

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

This is one of those shared-bill shows where neither performer is quite ready. Not quite ready for the hour; nor quite the finished product as a comedian. Yet despite their still-developing status, there’s enough to suggest both are worth a look-in.

Harriet Kelmsey is the first to deliver her set, after some eccentric compering from Richard Todd. She is as shy and awkward on stage as she is in her self-effacing anecdotes. A nervous cove, she’s disproportionally afraid of abduction, sexual assault, or peanuts (thanks to an allergy) – and certainly doesn’t fit in with her hipster neighbours in London’s fashionable epicentre, Shoreditch.

She seems a little anxious in her performance too; with a very deliberate two-sentence delivery: set-up, punchline – and then uncomfortable gaze into the middle distance, as she folds her body inwards slightly, in passive apology. It appears to be a learned performance, giving a flavour of the innate bashfulness which endears her to us, but not entirely natural.

The script is stronger than the delivery: Kelmsey has some astute observations and wry payoffs, but they may benefit a more conversational style: If you are telegraphing the punchlines, they need to be stronger than ‘wry’. But the world she depicts from her fragile point of view is an enticing one.

In complete contrast, the devil-may-care Todd is a more natural comic, thanks to his forcefully effervescent delivery of inventive, surreal material that sometimes fails to land – but not for want of trying. With his shaggy hair and bug-eyes, he cuts a curious figure, with a slightly otherworldly appearance that befits his oddball material. Think a young Charlie Chuck, with a better sense of narrative.

Todd knows he loses portions of the crowd with routines about his spatula-headed brother or 17th Century witchfinders, but he sticks to his guns with unquelled zeal. And if there his audience don’t entirely go along with his weirdness, he’ll merrily point out the fact, with charming taglines to emphasise the situation.

Because he’s so happy with the material, regardless of whether the rest of the room agrees, that’s what makes him charismatic. And don’t get the impression he’s ploughing a lonely furrow hated by everyone else: plenty of his segments carry the listener along. But it’s how he copes with those that don’t which is the most telling, since he stays true to his distinctive comic ideas.

Review date: 4 Aug 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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