Black Sheep: Road To Pisa
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
A road movie! A love story! A talking ass!
The Black Sheep have really established a wonderful niche for themselves, creating dark but gentle amalgamations of theatre and sketch comedy that regularly violate the classical rules of theatre and often boast a second-to-none offbeat sense of humour.
It is something of a departure – or perhaps a logical progression – then, that this year’s offering is more of a straight comedy play. Still, the hour contains much to recognise and admire, even if there is a constantly nagging sense that there is far more potential talent than that actually on display.
Veteran Black Sheep players Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh are this year joined on stage by Naomi Kerbel, who shines in her role as Mother to their brothers.
Together, the three characters make up the Family Dell’Arte travelling show, which unfortunately has gone a little stale since the tragic death of their father, due to an accident during the family’s signature routine involving a unicycle, watermelons and sword swallowing.
In order to save the company, they recruit spicy temptress Bella (also Kerbel) and head to Pisa, where they will try to perform at the city’s annual festival.
What follows is a story that embraces everything that is truly daft in comedy. It is packed to the rafters with energetic physicality, relentless groanworthy wordplay and pantomime asides.
Jones and Murtagh interact perfectly every time they share the stage, whether they are simply jumping over each other or singing a duet, supposedly accompanied by an invisible mother. Paired with Kerbel’s breathless costume and voice changes between the two characters, their energy is infallible and creates an infectious sense of fun.
But sometimes things get a little too ridiculous and the result can be quite weak. The constant puns and sly self-aware references that were initially hilarious begin to undermine the show as it draws to a conclusion, especially considering that their presence eventually fails to garner audience laughter and so just appear a bit feeble.
This problem is not nearly enough to shadow the show’s positive attributes, but such moments in the script could have been better employed than on yet another groaner.
There is more than enough here to be worth your money, however, as the performances and the narrative are exceptional. It is just slightly disappointing that the otherwise engaging story is padded out with a little too much silliness, and that a better balance could not have been struck.