views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

An Edam Odyssey
Etcetera Theatre
30th July 2013


Keir Carroll

Photography © Richard McKenzie

The supermarket shelves of sketch comedy are currently jam-packed with troupes screaming out to be bought. It seems like everyone with a couple of friends is throwing their hand in - some becoming a high-quality Waitrose product, others ending up like Tesco Value. To gather and retain a following, a USP helps, but isn't necessary. A consistent hit-rate of top gags is really the only prerequisite to fame. So where do relative new-starters Goes Well With Cheese fall? Well, quite like the name of the show - it's something you'd pick up on occasion and enjoy, but by no means a staple of your weekly shop.

Laboured metaphors aside, this five-person team - Stephen Mawhinney, Jacob Hatton, Mark Richardson, Perdita Stott (also one quarter of the all-girl comedy group The Kitten Killers) and Keir Carroll - do present a diverse, fast-paced show taking in everything from parody to surrealism to straight-up punning in an effort to get a laugh. It's an incredibly quick turnaround which means that even if the sketches don't land (and they sometimes don't quite get the response the group are looking for) there's another coming soon. And the bits that don't work are, at the very least, never boring. I know that seems like damning with faint praise, but it's really not, it takes a lot to keep things engaging.

But some suffered with the lack of originality - a Secret Millionaire sketch, a parody of dating sites riffing on ideas seen as far back as Smack the Pony and Fist of Fun. Others suffered with a forced topicality, Wills and Kate being unglamorously shoehorned into a sketch about a mother insisting everyone hold her baby proved to be neither cutting satire nor absurd juxtaposition. Equally, a book seller flogging "reduced" books (in which the name had been reduced, not the price) was a good concept that could have used some better titles. Billed as a pun-run, it only served to highlight the lack of understanding as to what puns are - as Henri Bergson has it, "two different sets of ideas are expressed, and we are confronted with only one series of words". Here, Delia's How To Coo or The Wind in the Will are very explicitly not puns.

Perdita Stott and Mark Richardson

Photography © Richard McKenzie

Others were more successful. A retro Thunderbirds spoof was elevated above the usual Peter Kay nostalgia by virtue of astute, sharp performances with spot-on movement from Hatton and Richardson as Brains and Virgil fought, reducing their hero status to schoolboys. This routine aside, the triumphs came with gags in which the situation, if not the outcome, were all fairly relatable. A cold-caller and some obnoxious customer service were nicely observed and subverted. And a real winner came along in the form of a judgemental supermarket self-checkout machine played by Carroll. A reworking of a sketch used in their 2012 show Zinfandel, this was a souped-up version - both funnier and smarter. There's no issue with rehashing old ideas if this is the final product.

The five have dedication to the craft, showing plenty of preparation, energy and enthusiasm. You have to have respect for comedians who gamely throw themselves into anything head first, will do anything for a laugh and aren't averse to self-mockery. Carroll, for example, was happy to strip down to very little in a final scene lampooning modelling. The problems lie in the tightness and punchiness of their writing. If they keep refining and constantly questioning their work as they have in the above checkout machine piece, though, a lot of these issues will eventually be ironed out.

Laboured metaphors front and centre, edam's a fairly mild cheese - unchallenging, not hugely complex. It's no mature cheddar like the Penny Dreadfuls, nor a brash, in-your-face aged stilton like Late Night Gimp Fight. But it is a great staple - you just need a bit of pickle to liven it up a bit.

An Edam Odyssey ran from 29th to 30th July 2013 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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