I’ll admit, having not seen a university comedy performance before, I entered the M&D room with trepidation. Thankfully, after the first handful of sketches, I relaxed, settled into my seat, and chuckled away for the remainder. The show opened with a framing device: five people meet in a cave for, let’s say, a meeting of passionate consummation, and find a stack of videotapes labelled “The Bad Sketches”, which they go on to watch. The balance of the knowingly meta was perfect and meant that, what is a proudly flimsy set-up, was accepted whole-heartedly by the audience.
It would be fair to say that the show, like any other, took some warming up. With the introduction out of the way, the troupe performed some sock-puppetry that did to the sock what ‘Watership Down’ did to the rabbit; highlighting the cruel terror of that world, and the audience loved it. However, the mugging sketch that followed seemed a tad baggy, which is probably in no small part due to the audience settling down into the show. Yet, perhaps it still needed some tightening and fine-tuning. That said, once we got to the anusol sketch – yes, an anusol sketch – we were on notably firmer ground. One could sense the audience relax and the laughs flowed beautifully. Any issues in a sketch being slightly too long or having the odd dip were disregarded, mainly because people were still laughing from the prior jokes.
The actors had the confidence that suggested creative freedom
One of the crowning achievements of the show was in its knowledge of the ridiculous. While many of the laughs came from the beautifully written scripts, bucketloads were due to erratic body language and silly voices. A sketch like ‘Nervous Improv’, in which an improv troupe’s skit becomes increasingly meta, embraced the bombastic and in doing so became something great. If it had ended even 30 seconds early then it would have been punctured. Yet, I believe first-time director, Dan Allum-Gruselle, knew that. As a show, it is a triumph; as a debut, it is extraordinary. The sketches, especially towards the midway point, seemed to have been made with intricacy and insight. Yet, one never feels this is the creation of some Frankensteinian control freak. The actors had the confidence that suggested creative freedom. Fraser Brown is gleefully maniacal in his readings of old nursery rhymes, which crop up throughout the show, and Sabrina Vanessa Cass and Imogen Townsend prove to be adept at using body language to perfectly conjure their characters.
As a show, it is a triumph; as a debut, it is extraordinary
The culmination of all of this came in a sketch predicated around an office meeting for a bizarre and notorious organisation, which had the comedic rigour one would expect of ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’ and wonderfully crafted performances. Ben Pollard, who played the leader of the meeting, seemed to have the capacity to fully encapsulate any role he took on. It was his imitation of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo that made me weep with laughter, and I am not entirely sure why. Equally, the success of the ‘Royal Mafia’ sketch seemed to revolve entirely around Tom Rolfe’s wilfully silly portrayal of Her Majesty the Queen. Rolfe’s body language screamed regal and languorous glee, and this obvious competence certainly made its impact upon the audience. It was in these moments that the show was at its best. We were watching people who knew absolutely what they were doing and how to get a laugh. It made me want to have a cup of tea and simply settle in, allowing the comics to do their work. The bar has been set very high indeed.