The key to pushing comics to new heights? Scalextric | Tim Harding's comedy diary

The key to pushing comics to new heights? Scalextric

Tim Harding's comedy diary

Tim Harding's comedy diaryReviewer Tim Harding gives a rundown of the best comedy he's been watching in London this past fortnight... 

Call me an auteurist, but there’s something quite satisfying about a takeover event, where a particular artist or group commandeers a venue for a bit to put on a run of shows. 

It’s nice to imagine you’re getting a properly selected bouquet, where thematic or aesthetic motifs might emerge in some way. For my money, Liebenspiel, the production company run by Benjamin Alborough and Pinata’s Ellie BW, has a particularly strong curatorial stamp, and their takeover last week of The King’s Head Theatre in Islington was a real buffet of intelligent, anarchic, format-breaking comedy. 

I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked from Liebenspiel’s Late Night Week, but Hot Rubber and The Glang Show were both a riot.

Hot Rubber is the world’s only Scalextric-themed comedy show, and I simply can’t tell you what an intriguing prospect that was to me. In practice, very much like Max & Ivan’s show The Wrestling, the racing of little electric cars around a wobbly cardboard track is somewhat secondary to the mythos that the players build around themselves and their custom-made vehicles. 

Hosts Eni Oshowo and Hudson Hughes had acquired a really exciting line-up of young talent, all of whom brought their A-game in a way that left me pumped for the future of the circuit. Highlights included Jin Hao Li’s Kennedy assassination-themed car, Rosalie Minnit as a gearhead Flemish merchant and Aidan Pittman keeping the score as Lappy, the downtrodden cockney Scalextric urchin.

Nikola McMurtry made a huge impression, and was a deserving winner of the pageantry award as the sixth Thunderbird, a role to which she brought a host of bespoke video material and even two of her own backing dancers for a spectacular Gerry Anderson-themed dance routine. Incredibly funny and impressive stuff. 

There’s a sense that, as hosts, Hughes and Oshowo currently struggle to match the material or the charisma of their guests, but the work they’ve put into the show is undeniable. With an intense array of custom animations and programming, a full band and roving cameramen, this is a production that makes The Wrestling seem almost lazy. They’ve built a showcase that pushes new comics to new heights.

The Glang Show is much simpler in many ways, but generates even more ludic chaos. It’s a normal mixed bill night, but every member of the audience is issued an orb. Hold your orb aloft, and the show stops, while you are given the opportunity to alter proceedings in whatever way you like, at any time, for any reason. 

Sean Morley and Sam Nicoresti have been running this night for ten years, and it’s completely different every single time. Joining the show on this occasion were a cast including President Obonjo, Benjamin Alborough as Terry Wogan, and real-world academic Dr Michael Flexer, attempting to present a lecture on the semiotics of schizophrenia while being stopped every few seconds so that he could be made to switch his clothes around, sing a song, lie on the floor, speak in rhyme etc.

The Glang Show surely has something fascinating to tell us about crowd dynamics if only we could see it through the fog of madness. Almost certainly, if allowed to run for several days or weeks, a new model of social anarchy would emerge. 

As it is, we ended up singing the ‘Terry Wogan theme song’ about eleven times in a row at various speeds, but that is just one of the infinite possibilities of this insane, beautiful format.

Meanwhile at Soho Theatre, I caught up with a couple of shows from last year’s Edinburgh clutch. Huge Davies’ new one is another set of ultra deadpan keyboard comedy, loosely themed around a murder mystery that’s weaved through the hour.

I enjoy Davies’ versatile, deconstructive approach to musical comedy, which mixes original compositions, sound effects and parodies, but he has a habit of arresting his own momentum between songs by bringing the energy down with a crash. He loves to take the air out of the room, which can sometimes be very effective as a comic device, and sometimes feels ironically amusical. 

Ikechukwu Ufomadu is even more reliably divisive, pastiching the very concept of showmanship with his diamond-hard veneer of fakeness, delivering meaningless tautological jokes like ‘they say you can tell what books a person has by looking at their bookshelves’ with his smooth, mechanical voice and a fixed cheesy grin. 

There’s more than a touch of Andy Daly’s legendary contentless set as Jerry O’Hearn to Ufomadu’s work, and I totally understand why some people might find a full hour to be a hard sit, but I found something dazzling in the inanity of it all.

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Published: 8 Mar 2024

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