views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

All Our Friends Are Dead
Etcetera Theatre
29th July 2013


Katie Norris and Sinead Parker

Photography supplied by Norris and Parker

The League of Gentlemen? The League of Women more like! LOL! Okay, so that was an appalling start, and I apologise thoroughly. But when you have two female performers creating a series of grotesques - in some cases bearing more than a few fleeting genes with the monsters formed by Monsieurs Gatiss, Pemberton, Shearsmith and Dyson - what are you going to do? The very fact I bothered to bring up those untouchable masters of horror comedy shows you how highly I have regarded Norris and Parker.

Their unassuming and filthy musical number lampooning wannabe-hipsters was perfectly amusing, but really didn't show them at their best. Mocking people for trying to be cool is this decade's Tony B. Liar joke. But the charm they managed to infuse let them get away with it, just about. A following sketch, essentially about marital abuse, while not lazy wasn't groundbreaking, piqued by Katie Norris' terrifying attempt at upper-class masculinity.

But then it all fell into place in the next two pieces - the narrative structure linked as the one-upmanship between the two pervaded everything else they had to do. Sinead Parker here is the more accepting one of the duo - happy to be slighted but not without her own snark, while Norris will ride roughshod over her, the constant instigator. A couple of callbacks that could have worked better in their final scenes are played out, but neither are scared of skewering themselves, ensuring everyone else is fair game.

Then they add the final part of the puzzle - their attractive, scantily-clad "manager" Amanda, who acts as narrator, translator and unknowing stooge. Throughout the rest of the sketches - involving murder, horrific am-dram groups and some particularly questionable reinterpretations of Waiting For Godot, every class, age group and Irritating person is in their sweary sights.

The other comparison to draw with the Gentlemen (nods to Papa Lazarou and Pauline Campbell-Jones aside) is their undeniably northern sense of humour. Sometimes it materialises in actual - but unobtuse - references to, say, the Manchester tram system. In others, the fatalistic, desperate yet fame-hungry idealism of the likes of Frank Sidebottom or Graham Fellows' John Shuttleworth.

Despite the inevitable foul mouths, there's true comedy brains at work here. They don't simply hide behind the sick and the squalid. Their explicit acknowledgement of gender stereotypes (comedic and otherwise) allows them to play with that, as well as the male, and exploit Amanda guilt-free. Her apparent sexual liberation plays wonderfully at odds with Norris and Parker's repression providing freshness between a barrage of brilliant two-hand sketches.

Although, I suspect, not quite as vile and cutting-edge as they would like to think they are, rounded performers Norris and Parker nonetheless have crisp ideas, a clear vision and an intelligence clouded in a fug of four-letter words. Which is my kind of intelligence.

All Our Friends are Dead ran from 30th to 31st July 2013 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe. It then ran from 5th to 24th August at Ryan's Bar, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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