views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Theatre Collection
16th August 2013


Oliva Cole, Chloe Penycate and Beth Symons

Photography supplied by Chloe Penycate and Friends

You're never quite sure what to expect with new comedy - we've seen some absolute shockers recently. But it's always a good sign when a theatre is so full that there are people sitting on the floor. (For the benefit of the Health and Safety brigade, we must add that the venue capacity wasn't exceeded, it's just that five to a row is ambitious in a non air-conditioned black box theatre.) Despite the heat, there was a good energy, with the audience reacting enthusiastically to all-female, all-blonde sketch group Blondage, made up of performers Chloe Penycate, Olivia Cole and Beth Symons.

The meat of the show is a series of sketches mocking television shopping, video dating, ladies wot lunch, ambulance chasers - generally nothing too cutting edge, but there's one brief and slightly 'dangerous' reference to Rolf Harris. But given such gems as the Jimmy Savile Punch and Judy show bombing at the Edinburgh Fringe, let's not get too bad taste for the sake of it, eh, girls?

On the other hand, the trio reuses characters in a way which is largely warranted, for instance, the two "PVC" scarf models (Penycate and Cole) later host their own segment, and the slightly deranged sexually-charged waitress (Symons) later tries her hand at finding a man with a GSOH. There may be no particular thematic link to the hour, the women write about any situation they think they can get a laugh from, but by repeating concepts and characters, it doesn't feel disjointed.

Peppered in with the sketches are musical parodies - from S Club Party to Chicago's Cell Block Tango, yes from one classic to another. These work well, the girls all able to carry off the tunes competently and the vaguely amateurish tone to their rejiggings ends up working in their favour.

But as well as the vivacious threesome, the show also has a touch of testosterone - well, sort of - in the form of Rich Andrews and Matthew Wright. Both men take on supporting parts, Andrews on the keyboard and Wright dealing with the scene changes. Wearing bright pink skin-tight hot-pants, white shirts and oversized red bow ties, they're dressed ridiculously, but are thoroughly confident with it and shine from start to finish.

Sat at the back of the stage, when Andrews isn't playing keyboard, he mimics the performers, he hand-dances, at times he looks deliberately disinterested or overly-engaged. Sketch comedy doesn't always work, but when the girls are less successful with the funnies, Andrews is always worth a watch, he lifts the production just by being there. Wright as well - from managing to make moving a chair around utterly melodramatic to getting enthusiastic with a pair of maracas - he's such great fun.

Blondage is a relatively high-energy set that will draw comparisons to the sublime Smack The Pony, but not necessarily unfavourable ones. They're confident, smart performers who give their all, even when a few sketches aren't on target.

And make no mistake, some aren't. The opening skit, that really should set the tone for the hour and make some sort of statement seems like something that should have come later, once they could afford to pop a little padding in. Equally, some of the of the video dating scenes don't hugely soar. But on the whole, it's an entertaining hour, the women really throw themselves into the show with a great physicality and sense of humour, happy to do whatever it takes to get the audience laughing.

It's always a pleasure to watch when the performers genuinely seem to having a good time and that rubs off onto the audience - we'd certainly like to see more from Penycate and Friends.

Blondage ran from 15th to 17th August 2013 at Theatre Collection, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Caledonian Road (Piccadilly)

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