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Witank Presents The School

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

Fringe sketch stalwarts WitTank are making inroads into to TV, thanks to Live At The Electric – the BBC Three show produced by their agents, Avalon. It also seems that they might have their sights on something with more of a narrative, given that The School sets the action around a single location... as if the box needs any more classroom-based sitcoms.

Not that this trio stick particularly closely to the setting; a device of catching up with alumni’s careers allows them to indulge in a skit nicely mocking bizarre thespian vocal warm-ups, while Walt Disney just happens to be living in the school basement. The first is probably too good to waste, but a callback aside, the Disney is little more disposable.

Back above ground in the brutal boarding school where where the pupils are rich, white and male, Naz Osmanoglu’s loud, brusque and overwhelming performance style makes him the perfect despotically unhinged headmaster. There’s a touch of Rik Mayall’s Flashheart to his extreme lifestyle and bulletproof arrogance, which is no bad thing.

The other comparison that often came to mind, though, is to Rowan Atkinson’s old public school sketches, which also often depended on the unyielding enforcement of arcane rules – and that’s a fight in which anyone will come off second best.

Wittank nevertheless have a decent hit-rate, and the show becomes more satisfying as it progresses, and the threads come to make more sense. The making of a video to promote the school, despite the head’s inappropriate language, is inspired and funny; as is the revelation of who really writes all of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.

A surreal story involving the obsolete overhead projector adds an air of surrealism, but possibly more odd than witty, while their most awkward sketch involves a Japanese parent attempting harakiri because of the shame his son’s marginally imperfect exam results. It’s certainly at an uncomfortable point on the ‘is this racist?’ spectrum – and not the only scene that outstayed its welcome once the gag had been made.

The trio – Mark Cooper-Jones and Kieran Boyd being the other two, more versatile, performers – play fast and loose with the script, at some points daring each other not to corpse. One brilliantly timed callback ad-lib, greeting the end of someone’s toilet break, was particularly exquisite.

There’s an admirable ambition to impose some sort of story to their sketches, creating a world in which all the diverse scenarios are plausible, but the results aren’t quite consistent enough for them to enter the top stream.

Review date: 18 Aug 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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