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Their Dark Materials
Etcetera Theatre
7th August 2015

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Their Dark Materials

Photography provided by Haden & Da Funk

You could probably come up with a scientific formula for what makes a good piece of theatre and demonstrate that it works. However, what makes good comedy is far more unpredictable - sometimes it's just downright odd what makes you laugh. Proper belly-laugh, I mean. You would think that having a pair of ovaries I just wouldn't enjoy the work of Zak Splijt's character LJ Da Funk. He's a loud, lager-swilling, bling-bedecked wannabe gangster who drops a load of c-bombs, along with some other not-so-female-friendly language. And yet, he's very entertaining.

Their Dark Materials is a bit of an unexpected partnership between Da Funk and Ashley Haden, a thoroughly angry man, who's as mad with the world as Da Funk is amused. Da Funk is a comedy creation, a persona who Splijt wears for the funsies, whereas Haden gives much more of his real self to the stage. Da Funk's material spans music, sport, religion and politics, with Haden solely focusing on current affairs and basically, everything that's wrong with society right now. There's a reason why they stuck "dark" in the title, some of the jokes do plumb the depths of black comedy.

The reason why Da Funk gets away with the horribly crude jokes that he does is that it's obvious he's only a character and the man playing him is laughing at him just as much as we are. On the face of it, Da Funk is a bit dumb and lairy, but his dialogue has been put together with care. He establishes some ridiculous catch phrases which the audience are only too happy to holler back at him, and makes us chuckle repeatedly. He's wrong about one thing though - his humour isn't best enjoyed retrospectively - it's best in the moment. Paedophile jokes aren't exactly that humorous in the cold light of day. Da Funk has a great stage presence and is so loud, he doesn't need a microphone.

Whilst Da Funk's set is secretly quite intelligent, Haden is far more overt in this regard. Haden would probably be the first to admit that his style of entertainment mainly consists of vitriolic ranting, and to reach that level of self-righteous political anger, you really do have to know what you're talking about. If you don't pay close attention to what's going on in the world and who's currently fighting with whom, you will start to run out of political jokes after about five minutes. Haden is frequently funny as he attacks politics and all those who sail in her, disgusted by the corruption he perceives to exist. His weak spot is that sometimes he's so passionate about his subject matter that he veers away from being a funny, angry, ranty man to just an angry ranty man.

When Haden isn't making us guffaw, we're still hooked by his diatribes. Whether or not you agree with his viewpoints, his opinions are undeniably educated ones; he's not the sort to vote for a party out of tradition, he really considers (and then hates) all the issues. This makes what he has to say nothing if not interesting, taking the awkwardness out of any lulls.

Their Dark Materials is definitely the sort of show which needs a disclaimer slapped on top of it. It's crass, vulgar and often bleak. You may not be proud of yourself for enjoying an hour with this odd couple, but you will have a good time, and that's largely the point.

Their Dark Materials opened on 6th August and runs until 9th August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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