EFR - Reviews of BEASTS: Solo

BEASTS: Solo

Wed 30th July – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

David Harris

at 08:49 on 2nd Aug 2014

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Leaving the Pleasance Courtyard at the end of the BEASTS: Solo show yesterday afternoon, I was completely speechless. No amount of context can even begin to explain the presence of a hospital made of artichokes, a rap about Nelson Mandela, or a man eating protein shake powder straight out of the tub. But for the preceding hour, I had been laughing almost non-stop.

Despite their enormous success at last year’s Fringe and an appearance on Radio 4’s Sketchorama, the members of the group have decided they want to split up and go solo. All trying to perform their own show simultaneously results in a ridiculous collision of the worlds of burlesque, magic, and “serious” drama. Although the comedy is incredibly surreal, it also feels strangely natural, as all three members of the group are beautifully in character throughout.

James McNicholas’ character gives a contrast between his completely over-the-top, melodramatic delivery and his horrendously poor skills as a magician. Ciarán Dowd is the fall guy of the group, often picked on by the others - but he frequently manages to surreptitiously disappear off stage only to burst back on again when you least expect it (often in an outlandish costume). Owen Roberts, meanwhile, is the schoolmaster, desperately trying to rein in the chaos caused by the other two. Often, the situation is reduced to him versus the other two; I felt that McNicholas and Dowd could have had more distinct roles, giving the arguments within the group more potential.

As for the jokes themselves, there is no predicting what is going to happen next. It is only at the end of the show that you get a sense of where everything has been leading, and even then there are still surprises. You endlessly wonder how on earth anyone could come up with this stuff – but it all works brilliantly. The trio are so genuine that almost nothing seems out-of-place. It is hard to tell whether some things are deliberate or not, but easy to sense their enjoyment, particularly in such an intimate venue.

There are moments where the momentum gets lost slightly by drawing out a routine for slightly too long, and at times, the comedy was just slightly too senseless for my taste. But at the time, you will hardly notice any of this. You’ll be too busy laughing. A must-see comedy group; just don’t sit in the front row.

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Xavier Greenwood

at 10:02 on 2nd Aug 2014

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A sketch show starring Owen Roberts, James McNicholas, and Ciaran Dowd, BEASTS: Solo is a painfully funny hour of viewing, which, though not for the easily offended, creates from self-aware chaos a show which for the full duration of the performance had, at any one time, one or more audience members overcome by uncontrollable laughter.

Whilst purportedly a show in which the trio perform three separate routines due to artistic differences, it very quickly devolves into a meta-theatrical argument as to what the sketch show itself should contain, which is sustained throughout the show. It is testament to the comic talent of the three performers that this conflict as to what should be in their show feels entirely natural, and indeed, there were moments during which it was hard to tell whether one performer’s barely suppressed laughter was scripted or merely a sign of genuine mirth at another’s antics on stage.

It is a self-confessedly difficult show to review insofar as its utter bizarreness is hard to encapsulate on paper, but on the stage its silliness works perfectly. Owen Roberts, the most straight-edged of the three, wishes to perform a twenty-minute piece entitled ‘Nelson Mandela: It’s Been A Bloody Long Walk’ (complete with intentionally terrible accent) which is consistently sabotaged by Ciaran Dowd and James McNicholas. Ciaran’s fervent desire to incorporate burlesque in the show results in increasing degrees of nakedness and every kind of thrusting, shaking, and, in short, the more risqué end of physical audience-based comedy (the sight of Dowd launching Haribo at the audience from a tub attached to his crotch by gyration alone is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but is, nevertheless, indescribably funny). James, for his part, sees himself as an illusionist, inexplicably adorned with scarlet cape and bike helmet, who mixes David Blaine and David Blunkett, and whose tricks become increasingly fraught with danger to his fellow performers.

The physicality of much of the comedy in no way cheapens the performance as a whole, since it maintains its self-awareness throughout and is, furthermore, full of fast-paced verbal humour; even though the occasional mini-sketch, such as the improvisation scene, seemed to drag a little, this was always shown to be entirely self-conscious by way of a self-deprecating comment – the slow-burning comedy of the ‘Artichoke Hospital’ had to be there in some sense to balance out the extreme humour of the performers’ more in-your-face sketches.

Performed with boundless energy, consistently hilarious, and astutely self-parodic, BEASTS: Solo is an absolute must-see for anyone who wants to laugh continuously for an hour (and a little more after).

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