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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Cook and Davies: Space Ark
Etcetera Theatre
15th August 2017


Cook and Davies

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

What would you do if an audience appeared on your space ship and demanded to know what life is like where you've come from? In Cook and Davies: Space Ark, comedy duo Lewis Cook and Alex Davies take us into outer space, some indeterminate point in the future following the destruction of the earth. Throughout the show, they attempt to follow a strict programme of entertainment paying tribute to the Earth, which is repeatedly disrupted by unexpected events.

Sketches range from movie summaries to badly-informed traditional stories such as that of Christmas (this is years after the planet's demise, so memories are sketchy). The energy is high throughout, though the piece feels lacking in variety, with only one or two more subdued sketches breaking up the norm of shouting and chaos. What I thought I had come to see was two officers on a space ship tasked with entertaining visitors, when what I actually felt I was watching was two students dressed for a casual night out on a Tuesday in their college bar, crashing and blundering their way through a series of what largely felt like untested ideas. Many times, Davies' eyes wandered as he broke character.

There were moments - without wishing to say too much, a cardboard person and a scene involving the repetition of Christmas - where there was a glimmer of a good, workable idea. There were other moments where the pair got a laugh for linking back to an earlier item. Mainly, though, the performance felt as if it had been hurriedly thrown together in the course of a couple of days.

In both character and voice, the duo clashed rather than complemented each other. I repeatedly felt a strong sense of wanting a slower-moving, authoritative person to walk on stage and calm the whole thing down, and I wonder whether one of the duo might consider adopting this role in future, not least to provide contrast and offer the audience greater variety to relate to. These two high-energy men shouting at each other in strained voices distracted and annoyed rather than engaged.

There was a sense, though, that Space Ark was supposed to be chaotic and messy, and indeed there is mileage in that concept, though certain conditions have to be met. Not least, if you're doing something deliberately badly then you have to make sure that the things you need to go well actually go well, otherwise the concept falters and you lose the audience's confidence. Of particular note in this regard was a poorly-constructed curtain rail, dead centre stage and a key prop, that had to be fiddled with to make it close. Both comedians missed the opportunity to acknowledge this shoddy kit and turn it into a laugh, and instead it became an unwelcome distraction, and a sign to an already drifting audience that plenty hadn't been ironed-out before opening night. Deliberately bad shows must never look accidentally bad, and a keen audience knows the difference.

There were also moments where the sound seemed to malfunction slightly or overrun to the extent that one of the cast had to ask for it to be stopped - I have no idea whether this was intentional, because by then I had reached the aforementioned point where I had lost confidence in the production. It may very well be that the whole thing was deliberate, and something intended to be funny simply fell on deaf ears.

The main weakness of Space Ark, however, is that it relies solely on a series of jokes rather than any attempt to engage the audience with likeable characters. When it comes to sketch comedy, there are two options in this regard – either you need to come across as nice people who genuinely like the audience, which creates considerable favour, or you need to come across with such authority that everyone can relax and watch you command the spectacle. Cook and Davies felt like an awkward in-between, neither relatable enough to truly get the the audience on side nor in charge enough to relax them. There was an unfortunate sense of watching two ill-introduced characters in a panic. A greater focus on rapport-building with the audience will undoubtedly improve the feel of any future show, and some work on vocal technique wouldn't go amiss.

Cook and Davies: Space Ark opened on 15th August and runs until 16th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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