Dutch Elm Conservatoire
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2004
An irreverent sketch-show from this five-man team, as a steady stream of unhinged characters face incompetence, unemployment and ill health.
The Fringe always offers such a bewildering choice of sketch shows, all with unhelpfully odd names and all promising the same blend of irreverence, parody and/or surrealism that it's impossible to choose between them.
But this year, Dutch Elm Conservatoire stands out from the pack, with impeccably sharp writing, perfect performances and a winning spirit of deadpanned stupidity.
Their sketches are all about inappropriate behaviour well, most comedy is but it's the brilliantly convincing execution and the inspired choice of situations that gives this talented quintet the edge.
So we see calypso-singing, recipe-obsessed policemen failing to talk down a suicide; a workforce-management confrontation over farm modernisation involving some highly agitated livestock; and a bunch of overpassionate archaeologists, to name but three.
But it's impossible to do justice to their superb sketches simply by describing them, when so much lies in the performance. Suffice to say the ideas are often downright odd, but the end results easily accessible thanks to the team's insistence on writing proper, solid sketches with beginning, middle and end then honing them to near-perfection.
A few quickies and some musical numbers keep the pace varied, and even if the overall feel is firmly routed in the traditions of middle-class, all-male sketch shows, it's none the worse for that.
No sketch team ever seems to escape the tag 'a bit hit and miss,' and even Dutch Elm Conservatoire cannot achieve a perfect strike rate, though they are leagues above the average. And when they are good, they are very, very good and when they're bad, they're still more than watchable.
These five talented men in black have 'Radio 4 sketch show' stamped all over them and surely a lot more beyond.