Take A Break Tales

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Modern Britain, as seen through the pages of Take A Break magazine by Danielle Ward, is a place of almost Dickensian squalor. It's a miserable land where life is cheap and infidelity, incest, wife beating, prostitution and drug abuse are so commonplace they barely raise an eyebrow.

This is the stuff of daytime talk shows and supermarket magazines, whose voyeuristic stories inspired Ward to write and introduce, Roald-Dahl-style, this series of comedy sketches. And it's fair to say her opinion of this subset of the poor and dysfunctional is pretty bleak.

The casual dismissal of all this tragedy and despondence, regurgitated for the reading pleasure of millions, is where the laughs lie. The scenarios she describes are disgusting, shameful and morally bankrupt, and Ward has a deliciously black way of describing them.

Our first melodramatic tale is pretty typical, in which a chavvy mum in velour tracksuit sets up her identically-attired slot-machine-addicted daughter, grieving over the suicide of her fiancé, with a new man, only to seduce him away from her. Then there's the woman who bit her friend's face off, 'like a French dog', or the impotent man who invites an 18-year-old virgin to sleep with his 48-year-old wife as he watches seedily. Everyday tales of simple folk.

Their outrageously stilted dialogue is clunkily acted out with exaggeratedly bad accents and badly-stressed syllables by Neil Edmonds, of The Consultants, and stand-ups Isy Suttie and Emma Fryer ­ their shameless hamming up being all part of the charm of this warped oddity.

The characters all speak in the way only found in tabloid reported speech, full of crucial information crowbarred in. They talk of 'my pal Pete, 57, from Dundee' or say, 'I'm ending my seven-year marriage to Terry'.

The playlets are punctuated with letters to the editor and to agony aunt Psychic Sophie, mini-monologues which don't quite come off. And the formula for the sketches, once established, becomes repetitive. Like reading the magazines themselves, you soon become deadened to the pain the tales depict.

But Ward always has the ability to surprise with a shocking turn of phrase or despicably offensive image unflinchingly harsh in its humour.

So exaggerated are the caricatures, it's hard to remember these are based on real-life people ­ though how much their stories have been perverted by Ward's sick imagination is unknown. Like the magazines, we end up judging those prepared to sell the miserable details of their miserable lives for £250. As Ward's narrator says, there's no redemption, nor resolution ­ which does leave something of a dramatic hole in the show ­ but to quote the title of another magazine, that's life!

Steve Bennett


Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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