Stickmen: Year One
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2004
Gut-busting sketch show with astonishing narrative, rooted in a mind-blowing audience twist. Chilling vignettes ingeniously fragment, revealing a genuinely thrilling hidden agenda (Sshh) They'll seize your ribs and rattle them silly. From the director of Ubersaus
There are some great ideas in this ambitious, well-performed sketch show, but it is so wildly inconsistent in tone and quality that it's almost destined to fail.
In places it has a matey, chatty atmosphere, with easy banter between the performers. It even stoops to some Noel Edmonds-style messy, fake fun or to getting the audience to make silly animal noises in what would be an icebreaker had it not come at the end of the show.
Yet at other times Stickmen aims for dark, weird and horrific humour so clearly inspired by the likes of Chris Morris's Jam. It occasionally hits home, but when it fails, you're left squirming. And do we really need so many jokes where rape is the punchline?
The jarring switches between the styles are disconcerting, rather than surprising, and the intended effect is lost through repetition: once you've genuinely learned to expect the unexpected, the shock, and impact, is lost.
It's a shame that the mood is so uncomfortable because in its best moments, Stickmen offers some of the more inventive sketch ideas around. The Arbitrator is a classic over-the-top grotesque creation, as is the ridiculous Perceptive Imp. And the sight that greets you as you leave the theatre is an impressive touch.
The performers give their all, too, bringing energy and conviction where it's needed, but remained kyboshed by a script that provides as many failures as hits.
That this show is subtitled Year One is encouraging. There are enough promising signs that something genuinely great could emerge from this confused mish-mash, if they concentrate on getting the style to gradually ebb and flow rather than jolt.
As a work-in-progress for Year Two, it's fine, as a fully-fledged show in its own right, it's too flawed to make its mark.