saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
The Comedy Bar Islington
The Chapel Bar
4th July 2012
Edinburgh Fringe previews are always a problem to review. On the one hand, you are paying for a show, on the other, you know it's going to be unfinished. Sketches aren't going to run seamlessly, stand-ups may have to resort to reading off their iPads. But that's all part of the fun and it certainly didn't hurt the incredibly informal two-header in a tiny dancefloor in the Chapel Bar. In fact, the hot, cramped venue gave it a perfect Fringe atmosphere.
MC Chris Mayo was, as he admitted, pressed for time, meaning any audience interaction was kept short. However, his genial personality and quick wit was enough to buoy the crowd.
Jigsaw, a sketch group made up of Dan Antopolski, Tom Craine and Nat Luurtsema wasn't quite the sum of its parts. All three are established comedians but at times their comedy chops weren't on show. They played to their strengths throughout - Antopolski taking on the more weird, childlike bonkers roles, Craine the slightly more sober. Luurtsema held her own as the most diverse of the trio with excellent exasperation (that may not entirely have been put on).
The three are incredibly likeable, which goes a long way when forgetting sketches, improvising around mistakes and corpsing. I sometimes think that these moments can the best of the preview show, representing the true talent of the acts without a safety net and the trio didn't disappoint. Their ability to affectionately niggle at each other, or straight-out take the mickey, was truly charming.
In the end, though, some sketches felt like the product of a university revue rather than of established comics. While a wonderful running joke of perverted holiday symbols worked, as did a man being confused by basic technology like a querty keyboard, another sketch about a man wanting his sperm to be saved after his death, to put it politely, seemed juvenile and outstayed its welcome after the first outing.
Their quickfire nature meant that any individual sketch rarely ran on too long, and this was to their benefit. If something didn't work, or at the very least you didn't find it funny, you knew a laugh wasn't too far away.
In the second half, Seann Walsh's observational comedy really gripped the crowd. His material - as evidenced by his appearance on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow - is unashamedly mainstream. If he's aiming for the big-time, it's clear that he could easily get there. Noticing how the snooze function on the alarm is usually nine minutes, what kind of hare-brained inventions drunken people come up with and how Londoners shove each other isn't groundbreaking, but it is solid, very well delivered and relatable. Most of all, it's just funny.
His shaggy-haired slacker appearance is at sharp odds with his boundless energy. Throwing himself across the stage while talking about the difference between men and women at parties, clambering over an urn looking for an imaginary router, the tiny space probably wasn't the best showcase for the comic, but it certainly didn't hurt. Even a piece he hadn't quite memorised, leaving it to be read from his iPad, didn't slow him down.
The problem with playing to the crowd with universal observations is familiarity. One of his bits, about friends immediately wanting to know your wifi password which segues into a piece on post, seems particularly familiar. Probably because the week previously, I saw a Matt Green gag about how texting in front of your mates is acceptable, but opening and replying to a stack of mail down the pub isn't. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting anything untoward, it's just that this is bound to happen from time to time. Unless, as Stewart Lee points out, you're Joe Pasquale using a Michael Redmond joke.
If Seann can make his world view a touch more unique without losing his general sppeal, that wrinkle will be ironed out. Also, the ending felt a little like the final Lord of the Rings film - it had about three or four places it could have comfortably ended, but more kept being tacked on. Still, that's something this process will fix, and there's nothing fundamental holding him back.
A small caveat - when the performers refine and polish their sets, they could easily go up a star. The whole point of these previews is to see what worked. But the raw materials on display certainly make both acts worth a go.
The Comedy Bar Islington is held fortnightly at the Chapel Bar on Wednesdays (weekly during June and July).
Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)