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Northern Droll
The Camden Head
4th August 2012

★★★☆☆

Sheffield Comedy Revue's third and final Camden Fringe entry is perhaps their weakest, but given the quality of the previous shows, that's not to say it's at all bad. It's a strong sketch show, with a lot of nice ideas, great delivery and in equal parts erudite and daft.

The team of six, Lizzie Milton, Laura Morley, Sion Long, Alex Derrick, Graham Chapman and Michael Palin... erm.... Mike Bentley and Tom Burgess, are all assured performers, able to generate big laughs. They all hold their own while giving each other room to breathe, crafting some larger-than-life characters in the process. Milton's screechily annoying, truly hateful party thrower and Burgess' desperate man who hadn't had a conversation in years are real highlights.

Perhaps because of Burgess, Bentley and director Sam Nicoresti's involvement, in many places this felt a lot like Staple/face-lite. No bad thing, as they are very good indeed. But there is an over-reliance on sketches taking place in shops or run-ins with officious or offensive members of the establishment. These are hit-and-miss, but it's when they take it into new places or darker territory that it shines. A sketch pitch from Bentley which quickly turns into a serious proposal for all-out warfare is sold perfectly while a sublimely silly skit about gin (including some groan-worthy puns) shows the in-gin-uety of the team - and performers Long and Derrick - at its strongest.

There's also the tendancy to go a bit meta, which I love when done well. Here, having Burgess break the fourth wall in the final scene, interrupting Morley and Derrick to tie his shoelace in the spotlight leads to a revolt. It's a lovely, almost intentionally anti-climactic ending. In small venues such as The Camden Head, breaking down the barriers between audience and show, characters and cast, is always a good idea. SUCRe know this, and carry it off skilfully.

Still, some good ideas drag on too long. A counter-terrorism initiative to put monsters in place of landmarks on pictures across the whole internet was cute, but the final payoff weak and the whole thing slightly laboured. Lulls happen a number of times, usually when the scenes become too self-indulgent for their own good. Further script editing would go a long way to improve the pace of the show.

With Northern Droll, all of the members of the team have proved themselves to be versatile, accomplished and incredibly dedicated. They're naturally funny people who, by reigning in their habits to be overlong, will go far.

Northern Droll ran from 3rd to 12th August, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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