Ealing Live!

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

One aim of Ealing Live! is to offer a less hostile equivalent to Late 'n' Live for sketch and character acts; a smorgasbord of comic canapés from other Fringe shows for the price of a single ticket.

But it also aspires to more than that; creating both a fluid transition between the items and a semi-permeable fourth wall that brings the characters and audience much closer than would usually be expected of a show of this kind.

This is an ambitious and fragile state to achieve, to combine the looseness of stand-up without compromising the more insular performance of many character acts. If and when this happens, the show comes into its own, but during this short Edinburgh run, that was by no means guaranteed.

The performers, including the likes of Ben Willbond, John Hopkins and Simon Farnaby, have developed an informal working collaboration under the auspices of the famous West London film studios, giving them a healthy working relationship. There, the characters are given room to evolve, providing a body of polished sketches to be picked and mixed for these Fringe showcases.

I went twice, one night hosted by Reginald D Hunter, who was slightly too far over to the 'loose' side of the scale to make his interactions work effectively, and the final night of the run, when Phil Nicol oversaw a much more efficient compilation.

The acts varied, too. All are fine performers, but their creations weren't consistently hitting the mark.

Best of the bunch was surely Farnaby's nervous scientist Dr John Pinner, whose inner doubts about everything from his suitability as a public speaker to the lunar landings burst out in involuntary Spasm as he gave an increasingly ridiculous lecture about the origins of life. His horse, Mighty Mouse, was a bizarre joy, too.

Other stand-outs include Katherine Jakeways' skilfully realised amateur-night impressionist with delusions of adequacy, and Tom Meeten's leather-clad Baron, a bonkers, putrid embodiment of evil with a Brian May wig who viciously spits profanities ­ at least until his satanic, anarchic energy peters out.

Justin Edwards' inappropriate children's entertainer Jeremy Lion is always good value; although his similarly gruff, belching guardian angel somehow doesn't achieve the same effect.

Other sketches that didn't work included the Death Star painters; innocent contractors working on Vader's ultimate weapon, possibly inspired by a conversation in the film Clerks, who prattled on for too long about their mundane home lives. A parody of Bjork was too obvious, and out-of-date, and an inarticulate athlete being interviewed after her event similarly one-dimensional.

The biggest mistake of either night, however, was having Jakeways appear as a humourless student of comedy, dryly highlighting all the mistakes she perceived dogged the show. The idea's nicely self-referential, but it only works if the audience don't start agreeing with the analysis.

Nonetheless, the pace is reasonably fast, ensuring that if you don't like the current sketch, another will be along soon; and unlike most Fringe character shows, it'll be by another actor. Neat surprises that spring from unexpected quarters also keep the interest.

Proceedings were neatly tied up with a speed dating segment, putting many of the preceding characters into the same situation, in a similar way that everyone from Dick Emery to Harry Enfield has their creations interact for in a final scene.

What Ealing Live hasn't quite achieved in Edinburgh is breaking down the sense of decorum that stops the audience becoming fully involved. Character acts, especially those with acting backgrounds, tend to hind behind this mental wall so as not to expose themselves, but it's also a barrier to laughs.

Some of the more interesting moments were when the mask slipped momentarily, exposing a moment of spontaneity. For example: Farnaby choking back a laugh during his date scene as Mighty Mouse; or Gareth Tunley's speech therapist Dr Julian Voon, otherwise notable mainly for repeating the tired observation about Sean Connery's limited range of accents, struggling to keep his wig on.

The venue didn't help create the right mood, either, tiered theatre-style seating being less conducive to the desired effect that the more informal, cabaret-style layout of Ealing's Studio 5 where this team normally work.

There's enough talent on display here to believe Ealing Live! is on the verge of creating something special, and any 2005 show to be hotly anticipated. But despite the team's best efforts, this year's brief run achieved fine moments in isolation, rather than being the cumulative triumph for the whole ensemble that the project is surely capable of.

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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