Sketchercise 2nd Birthday

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Hand-in-glove with the boom in stand-up has come a proliferation of sketch and character nights – even if the sheer number of bodies involved means that commercial viability can be only a distant dream. But such clubs tend to be established to fulfil the fundamental need to road-test material, so perhaps this allows a wider scope for experiment, free of the obligations a paid performance demands.

London’s monthly Sketchercise, set up by double act Allnut and Simpson, this week celebrated its second birthday, an occasion marked with a few pound-store balloons and party banners adorning the stage of Ginglik, the tastefully converted former public toilets in Shepherds Bush.

Compere for the night was Cariad Lloyd, in a different alter-ego for each of the three sections, but each demonstrating the quirky, impish wit that earned her the best newcomer nomination at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. If anything, these creations frequently had sharper jokes than before, although they occasionally lost their way, her occasional glances at the script suggesting they are still works in progress.

First we met the American woman-child, all high-pitched giggles and feigned stupidity to maximise her unthreatening appeal to men and paper over a hundred psychological troubles. She’s an intriguing character, with vast potential, and impressively realised by the talented Lloyd, with plenty of bright, under-the-breath jokes.

Her next creation, a Northern Jesus impersonator, was a more one-joke affair, but she strung it out as long as she could; while her final incarnation – as Moominmamma in the Scandinavia of Wallander, The Killing and Stieg Larsson provided a good (if over-exploited) central joke, even if you had to be of the right age to fully appreciate all the Moomin references.

The first guest, Jack Kelly, had an unforgettable look as Ichabod Cranium, the smartest man alive. With home-made giant forehead, he could have been a runaway from a Vic and Bob sketch, while his distinctive speech certainly marked him out as one of those mad geniuses. This great first impression was, unfortunately, eroded by the rather straightforward central premise that he’s a chronic geek who can’t get laid – proved by graphs and diagrams. There are a couple of nice jokes in this, but the excellent character seems underused.

Errors Of Comedy offered up some funny, mildly eccentric, ideas that could slot right into a generic TV sketch show, including a running gag they neatly managed to extend beyond its catchphrase potential. A sketch about internet porn, though, climaxed too early, as it descended into little more than a catalogue of fictional names for XXX websites – a formula that could be used more sparingly.

Nice work from Sheeps, reprising their best sketch to date – a breakneck run through their new musical version of Oliver Twist, hardly at all inspired by any other similar projects – while presenting some newer work that combine sharp writing with appealing performance skills.

After the interval, Amy Hoggart performed as Pattie Brewster, a nervous shut-in tentatively trying stand-up in a desperate attempt to make some sort of human contact. The timorous approach is a hard one, as the audience need to have confidence in the performer, even when their character is shy and hesitant. Hoggart didn’t instantly make that clear, but as some nifty jokes weaved their way into her set, it became clearer she had more of a clue than she let on.

The night’s curators, Allnutt and Simpson, proved more dependable, if not that exciting, with robust and funny sketches, played straight. They are capable writers and decent performance, who got the laughs, but don’t currently have the air of something special and distinctive that will make their name.

Prolific YouTuber Damien Slash – the alter ego of actor Daniel Barker – presented a trio of characters: the arrogant City banker, a flighty record company A&R man, and a street-talking youth with a beef with Odeon cinemas. They could be caricatures, but Slash’s wonderfully naturalistic performance and obvious vocal talent, make them very believable, and very distinct.. The realism extends to not having too many polished jokes (and the unmitigated evil of the banker is rather one-note) but the characterisation is impressive.

The closing act, Making Faces, however, proved a rather disappointing end to the night. The trio have a nice line in exaggerated caricatures and an engaging energy, but they milk their few gags too much.

Still, despite the ups and downs – and the inevitable ‘work in progress’ feel to a night such as this, especially as Edinburgh deadlines focus the mind – Sketchercise certainly proved an entertaining enough night to wish it many future birthdays.

Review date: 27 Apr 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Ginglik

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