views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Harrison Harris Show
Etcetera Theatre
18th August 2014


Elise Harris and Clare Harrison

Photography provided by The Camden Fringe

I never thought I'd feel jealous of Terry Waite. Chained to a radiator for almost five years he might have been, but at least the first four years of his 1,763 days as a hostage were in solitary confinement. It could have been worse, he could have had entertainment in the form of Clare Harrison and Elise Harris. It's never good when an audience is told after the fact that what they've just been subjected to is, in fact, a work-in-progress show which has not been billed as such. It almost reeks of making excuses when sketch after sketch fails to land but at least it meant that the billed 45-minute runtime was reduced to a merciful 35. Even if they didn't seem to know how to end it.

Not that they knew how to begin it, really. A brief chat to explain the concept of the show - a sketch piece taking place in a hospital (which literally could have been anywhere) gave way two women with a box of wigs seemingly improvising characters in what can can only be described as a dangerously ad-hoc fashion. The plot, such as it was, revolved around hospital Jaqueline-of-all-trades Angel (Harris being Harris in a blonde wig and Welsh accent) being given a cucumber that in some way contained a million pounds. No, me neither. This surreal whimsy serves simply to highlight the talent of Reeves and Mortimer, who can do it properly. Hell, it also serves to highlight the talent of Noel Fielding, who really, truly, can't.

Not only was this nonsensical narrative lacking in logic and jokes, but the execution - and I use that word pointedly - was dire. We were warned that there'd be quite a few costume changes, fair enough, but these usually left Harris flailing wildly with no bridging material attempting to coax responses from an uninterested audience and improvising poorly. With absolutely no music either, the wait for Harrison's next character was agonising and when they did arrive, they weren't worth the wait. An ill-advised superhero called Period Woman probably had the most potential yet they confided that they weren't sure about her. Such forethought sadly lacking as creation after failed creation were trotted out for sketches with no punchline. At one point, one of Harris' male characters, in an oddly meta comment, transforms into the aforementioned Angel, saying "I've taken over her life and no one will ever notice". Given the identikit performances, I'm happy to say I agree. It's weird as I'm not even sure I can say that portion of the show was transphobic, as there was not enough substance to justify any outrage.

Elise Harris and Clare Harrison

Photography provided by The Camden Fringe

On the upside, I did count at least two proper jokes in the half-hour. The first, about cataracts, I can't really recall. But the second, delivered by Harrison via a character in the vein of The Fast Show's Rowley Birkin QC - i.e. very, very drunk - was about a "well-hung Parliament" and did actually garner a laugh from myself and the reluctant audience. And in contrast to most of Harris' characters, chaplain come cat fanatic cult leader Josephine was both well-observed and realised, even if it all came to naught via another skit with no point.

I can't help but feel the pair are missing a trick here (along with gags, characters and punchlines). From their preamble and post-show dissection, Harrison and Harris have different enough personalities to sufficiently shoulder a more traditional double-act. Harris's flighty, slightly spaced-out nature stands at stark contrast to Harrison's more straight, laconic demeanour. There are shades of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson's very early work here, along with more contemporary comparisons such as Peacock and Gamble. They could go down this route, or take it to the other end of the spectrum, embrace their lack of preparation and become anti-comics, ´grave; la Brian Gittins, Edward Aczel or Neil Hamburger. For either of these to work, though, their dreadful writing needs to be sorted out.

Harris and Harrison seem like genuinely nice, passionate people who, as their publicity states, have more than six million YouTube views between them. Some viral video stars such as Bo Burnham have massive crossover appeal, but in this case perhaps YouTube is the best medium for this duo. Maybe. I don't know, their live show hasn't persuaded me to seek them out. But I presume they can retake, edit out pauses and generally finesse, resulting in a much more polished final product.

Phew, after that outpouring, I really don't know how to round off this review, so maybe I'll take a page out of Harris and Harrison's book and sing a song that I presumably wrote but don't actually know the words to. But as easy as that would be to do, I'll be honest, I feel like I've made my point already and don't want to drag it out any further. They may be a pair of amiable comedians who can do funny voices well enough, but Harris and Harrison's material is sadly lacking. There may be a decent comedy show in them, but this isn't it.

The Harrison Harris Show ran from 18th to 20th August 2014 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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