views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Not The Adventures of Moleman
Etcetera Theatre
3rd August 2012

★★★☆☆

In the closing scenes of Not the Adventures of Moleman, an "expert sketch comedy critic" appears and amongst other things suggests the show is alright, pretty good, not that bad. Wearing a t-shirt with 'Pretend this is a suit' written on it, it's hard to know whether it's a dig at the pretension of my career or another example of Arron Ferguson and Richard Murray's ramshackle, appealing half-baked attitude. In either instance, their meta-reviewer gets it right.

First off, there is a lot to like here. Ferguson (a kind of young, better looking, hyperactive Simon Munnery) bounds about the stage with playful enthusiasm while Murray (a stretched Paul Rudd) is, for the most part, a muted, less forceful comic presence. It's a dynamic that works well and their love for the medium is infectious.

Another boon is their total fearlessness in search of laughs. Whether it be barely disguised full-frontal nudity, some seriously over-the-top snogging or a faceful of soupy vomit, they will do whatever it takes to secure some laughs. To be honest, this anarchic spirit is refreshing in the increasingly smug sketch comedy market.

As far as the sketches go, it's a mixed bag. A repetitive children's song is judged perfectly, providing a through-line for the rest of the show. Totally outstaying its welcome until it's funny again, it's an earworm that I am still humming as I write this. A physical comedy sketch of a full-on waiter trying to attract a customer is packed with pratfall after pratfall. And the closing europop spoof is so bonkers that you can't help but laugh.

Others, however, don't seem to hit the mark. Obviously inspired by Chris Morris, a dead baby sketch lacks the horror or bite of the master's Jam work. Another audio piece, a compilation of real vox pops apes The Day Today's Speak Your Brains segment, but the opening gambit isn't as subversive, ludicrous or playful enough to elicit much in the way of humorous response.

A huge raft of audience interaction provides a lot of laughs and Arron in particular is excellent at thinking on his feet. A routine about a crowd member owing the team £10 could have gone in any direction, and it's in these seat-of-the-pants, slightly dangerous moments that their warmth and wit shine. But their true test will come when trying to control boozy Edinburgh Fringe-goers at 1am.

Because of this, there is no fourth wall. It becomes increasingly hard to know where the planned show ends and general messing around begins, which in itself isn't a bad thing. The appearance of looseness and adaptability is very nice. It also allows them to get self-indulgently metatextual at points but unfortunately they hadn't built up enough goodwill from the room to entirely let them off.

A kinder, larger or more engaged audience would have helped buoy the lulls (it's amazing what spontaneous applause during a blackout can do. But they shouldn't get too disheartened. Their material is promising and with a few snips here and there, combined with a couple more witty one-liners, Ferguson and Murray will get the more consistent laughs they deserve.

Not The Adventures of Moleman ran from 2nd to 5th August 2012 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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