Beta Males' Picnic: The Bunker

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

After some unspecified armageddon, the future of humanity rests with the last couple of hundred survivors, trapped in an impenetrable, airless bunker. Radiation ravages their bodies, they live under the tyrannical rule of an omnipotent despot, and the only surviving music is a novelty Nineties electro-pop hit that makes the in-shelter radio station more grim than the Chris Moyles show.

Rarely since the League Of Gentlemen have a sketch group painted so bleak a tableau for comedy; but the bright young things of Beta Males Picnic make the obliteration of humanity fun.

The claustrophobic setting is the ultimate sitcom-style trap to bind the characters together; while the inhabitants of this oppressive subterranean tomb are an exaggeratedly motley lot. There's the evil one-eyed henchman mwah-ha-haing as he merrily burns down an orphanage, the evil scientist hell-bent on creating Dr Moreau-style monstrosities, and the terrifying midwife robot – to name but three.

With a series of sketches bound by a strong sense of overbearing location – not to mention the loosest of narratives – this confident quartet have created a gloriously over-the-top melodrama, smartly employing every comic trick in the book for laughs. The lively performances are a joy, for a start, and to a man they exhibit a deft talent for physical comedy. That's combined with the sharp verbal wit of their bold, sassy script, rich with witty wordplay and feisty backchat.

There’s a rare maturity to the writing; one minute they can underpin the comedy with pathos, the next ramp up the energy for some Knockabout chuckles with a grotesque, larger-than-life caricature. The production's slick, too, with their attention to detail extending to impressive visuals and evocative sound cues to add to the atmosphere, but the show remains loose enough to allow a little larking around, especially when one of the actors corpses.

Stylistically, it’s reminiscent of the TV work of Graham Linehan, creating a silly world entirely consistent in its deranged logic, from which daft set pieces naturally emerge.

The show flags occasionally, such is the curse of almost any sketch offering, but this mix of the absurd and the dystopian is an assured, enjoyable second show from the Jersey-based quartet. It's the end of the world as we know it, but you’ll feel fine.

Review date: 4 Oct 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Bull And Gate

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