views from the gods

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Full Stage Splash: A Comic Look At The Comic Book
Etcetera Theatre
16th August 2012


As a comic book fan, as soon as you reference a Marvel comics storyline in which 70s blaxploitation character Luke Cage attempts to get back $500 from ruthless dictator Doctor Doom in your show, you win my backing. It's as simple as that.

Using the Reduced Shakespeare Company tactic of smooshing down huge subjects into short shows, the Sigil Club have taken on a much more daunting subject - the comic book. I mean, you know where you are with ol' Will. Some plays, some sonnets, some other miscellany. But to condense the entire comic book medium into an hour is not possible, is it?

Well, no, frankly. This isn't a criticism because it rapidly becomes clear that the show isn't about comic books as much as it is the genesis of the superhero, which, for a lot of the time, could be one and the same. There is a nod to other genres, the underground comix scene and other countries' outputs (although curiously not Britain's). But still, there was a lot it didn't quite fit in, such as Asterix, Tintin, The Smurfs, Judge Dredd and pulp heroes. Some mentions, sure, but to fully explore this would have taken at least five more shows.

The format was a basic sketch show broken up by the enthusiastic narration of all four performers, Daniel Farley, Kate Quinn, Kris Wood and writer/director Michael Eckett. If they don't know comics themselves, they don't show it, and Eckett certainly must have demanded a rigorous diet of classics in the lead-up to this powerhouse history lesson.

Using an cleverly generic Superman analogy, alongside a cookie-cutter Nazi bad guy, the themes, origins and motivations of the superhero were skilfully explored through the ages. The trends were nicely mapped out, each to hilarious effect. In between these, we had more industry-specific pieces, such as a delightfully childish account of the creation of Image Comics and a brilliant puppet show showing 50s reactionary Frederick Wertham and the creation of the Comics Code.

On the whole, this was a stupendous, giddy romp through the facts of the funny books, with very little in the way of poor performances and duff sketches. Even the convoluted, dry and absurd discussion of the DC Comics fractured multiverse was handled cleverly, humorously and with significant aplomb.

The only issue I had with the piece was for all they were aping the Reduced Shakespeare Company, something was missing. In the RSC's expositionary asides, the trio's personalities always shine through, driving the explanation. That wasn't the case here, with the lectures being used dryly as bridges between scenes, doing nothing that you wouldn't find in a university setting. If they could impart the information with the same energy and glee as the sketches, that would be the icing on the delicious cake.

Still, as someone whose Master's degree dissertation was on comics, there was little I could fault them on as far as the factual content went. And as a comedy lover and theatre fan, the results could have hardly been better.

Full Stage Splash: A Comic Look At The Comic Book ran at the Etcetera Theatre from 16th to 18th August 2012, as part of the Camden Fringe. Sigil Club are staging it again at the Hen & Chickens Theatre in Islington 1st and 8th December 2012.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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