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Men Of War

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Typical. You spend all year crafting your sketch show, writing and rehearsing every last detail ... and the biggest laugh you get is when something goes wrong.

This wouldn’t normally be a good sign for a Fringe show, but Men Of War play it perfectly. They’ve built a good rapport with the audience, and let their real personalities peek out from their characters just enough so that when a broad farce accidentally breaks out with a malfunctioning pair of trousers, they play it skilfully, wringing out the laughs without getting overwhelmed by the moment.

Then again, perhaps it was planned all along. It seemed genuine and spontaneous, but this quartet are such skilled actors and improvisers, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens every night. Just look at the pedigree of the cast, including Stephen Harvey, who was one half of the Perrier nominated Touslon & Harvey and David Schaal, who plays Jay’s Dad in The Inbetweeners. They are joined by Gareth Kane, from sketch group Scratch, and Cariad Lloyd, who brings an irresistible cheeky glint to all her characters.

The tone of the show largely sits on the jagged edge of middle-aged comfort; the key characters tend to have a sadness about the lives they have come to accept, from mid-management scenarios like conferences and appraisals, to the long-married husband having a rare drunken night of escape with his pals. The team prove to be very good at acting drunk and/or spouting bullshit. In fact, they prove to be very good at acting, full stop – their timing is excellent, and they have off-kilter sensibilities in performance as well as writing.

Some of the set-ups are comedy staples: the parody of the home shopping TV channel, the rectal probe (where do you think that wardrobe malfunction came from?) and the paedophiles grooming kids online. But just when you think you’ve seen it before there’s always an unexpected twist or disorientating tone to make things interesting. Their daytime cop show Hummus and Brie, featuring a particularly butch Pam St Clements, is a special delight.

They sometimes wear their cleverness on their sleeve – the Mad Men parody is beautifully metaphysical without being self-indulgent – and sometimes just go for the silly or raucous. Not being able to predict which way they will jump makes the show work so well. And while most the comedy comes from heightened character or awkward tone, there are some cracking jokes and blindsiding non-sequiturs in the punchy script.

Review date: 6 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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