views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Making Faces: Calm and Collected
Etcetera Theatre
25th August 2012


Calm and Collected is a self-consciously ridiculous name for sketch trio Making Faces' new show. Although the songs, skits and poems are (allegedly) linked by the theme of anxiety, calm and collected the production was not. Frenetic? Yup. Ramshackle? Definitely. Frequently hilarious? Indisputably. Calm and/or collected? Not a cat in Hell's chance...

The refreshingly unpolished nature of the show was, of course, entirely intentional. A drum set was made up of what appeared to be a Tupperware box and plastic bowl, the performers frequently went off on tangents and, at one point, happily helped provide a few paragraphs of this imagined review, so I didn't need to bother. Dan's description, which included highlighting their improv skills proved the troupe are astute performers and writers, with a back-to-front knowledge of what they are doing and why it works so well.

One reason it works is that the trio manage to take ideas that would be perfectly servicable little three-star sketches and build layers of nonsense into them until they become utterly ridiculous. For example, a recurring sketch about a teenager going through a phase was good. But add in the parents inexplicably peeling potatoes, then put that kid in a neon yellow hazmat suit, stick a box on his head and put him on rollerblades and it becomes something much more than the sum of its parts. Dan careered and careened about the stage, almost out of control, highlighting not only a huge talent for physical comedy but creating the element of danger needed. It was all an act, of course. A perfect metaphor for the show - apparently haphazard but actually very well thought-out. Most importantly, it made me - and most of the audience - laugh harder than I have in a long time.

A second example of their added-value philosophy of sketch comedy came with two spies trying to exchange increasingly difficult things. A second great show of physical comedy on the part of Lizzie and Dan, but it was really Ed, on the side, gleefully bashing away on the vibraslap percussion instrument while pulling Louis Spence-style faces and movements that sold it. Pointless but perfect.

It may sound as if a lot of the humour was of the 'lolrandom' variety most seen by the infinitely smug Noel Fielding. And at times, it was. But at others, it was much more considered and had more in common with Vic and Bob than The Mighty Boosh.

It wasn't all planned to perfection, though. The three seemed to be having as much fun as the audience, frequently breaking from the script to improvise a little. In fact, two skits in particular seemed to be based entirely on audience interaction. Obviously they have some idea of prepared lines, but Lizzie certainly held her own against latecomers, early leavers and the front row - whether they wanted to be involved or not. Again, the element of danger coupled with their quick wit really allowed it all to succeed.

It wasn't all sunshine and light, though. Dan's role as the childish, impulsive and slightly misogynistic loose cannon skirted around darker territory, with talk of smashing kids' faces in among other things. Shock humour can be unpalatable, but given the insanity of the preceding 50 minutes, here it was lapped up. There was no threat of the intent being mistaken, this was all naughty words said by an idiot, and so. Ed, on the other hand, was the more thoughtful and, dare I say, Stewart Lee-inspired of the three, with his beautifully constructed poems being teriffic send-ups and top pieces of work in their own right. Only Lizzie, I felt, had the least defined character and despite her formidable comic talents, she was 'the woman one' and little more, which was a great shame.

Whether it was their ability to really rouse the audience despite the sauna-like conditions of the Etcetera Theatre, their sheer battiness or their sharp comedy minds, there's something really special about these three. They're not just making faces, they're making a name for themselves too.

Making Faces: Calm & Collected ran from 21st to 26th August 2012, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts