Cheesed Off

Fri 1st – Tue 12th August 2014

reviews

Ben Horton

at 09:55 on 12th Aug 2014

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Comedy at a pub they said. A little light relief from all your hard reviewing they said. Little could have prepared me for the reality of Cheesed Off at the Phoenix, a show which left me lost for words but not quite in a good way.

The first thing to be said is that acting duo Jodie Ellis and Amanda Walden (who make up the Blanket Theatre company) are in another more serious play, Tea for Tabitha, which is by all accounts excellent. The fact that I know this because the cast apologetically told us on-stage at the end of Cheesed Off, demonstrated their own discomfort with the “comedy” they had presented.

Hoping for something with the punch and zest of Stinking Bishop, we were instead given a Babybel – tasteless, artificial, and ultimately unmemorable. The premise of a “sock broker” (yes, she marketed socks) fleeing the city after an altercation with her boss and arriving at the farm of a backward New Zealand goatherd just in time to start a highly successful goat’s cheese business, never filled me with confidence. I was proved right just about the time they started singing “20 packets of goat’s cheese sitting on the shelf…”

The acting was enthusiastic to say the least. Walden and Ellis threw themselves about stage in an attempt to convey the “traces of song, dance and physical comedy” which were alluded to in their flyer. A few line mix ups aside, their execution of the show was to not be criticised, but their choice of that show certainly must be. Apart from the banal dialogue and dearth of punch lines, a few of the jokes were actually quite distasteful – not least the one about planes: “They seem to be going down all over the place recently.” If you’re going to fail to be humorous, at least don’t be offensive in that failure.

At one point the sock broker Melinda (Ellis) proclaimed that she wished all of her misfortunes were just a bad dream. I had to concur with her, although unfortunately for the both of us this was all too real.

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Rachel Mfon

at 11:06 on 12th Aug 2014

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The Blanket theatre could not have asked for a more generous venue. The Phoenix bar pumped its audience with a few drinks and some warm conversation, setting the mood for a great night of comedy. Admittedly, we were not a tough crowd. The performance, however, proved to be excruciatingly tough to sit through.

The play presents the unlikely pairing of two women who exist on parallel sides: Desiree the lone wolf with her lone goat, and the entrepreneurial Melinda, who is heavily invested in the sock market (no typo, unfortunately). As the two join forces it becomes clear that they have one thing in common, an air of desperation. An air, so infectious that it seeped through the fourth wall and made us share in their desperation, as we earnestly sought laughter from within ourselves but failed to produce much more than a pitiful smirk. In a plea for laughter, the scene would hang on for dear life to a joke until it was utterly rinsed out. The play introduces the word 'sock' in exchange for 'stock' and this is heard repeatedly until a merciful audience member offered a giggle in an attempt to move the action along.

Our level of endurance was surely tested as the scene went from poor joke to poor joke to pitiful poverty-stricken joke. Punchlines amounted to a mere soft nudge, which barely kept us from nodding off. There were a few moments that warranted our laughter - notably the culture shock surrounding the characters gave opportunity for easy jokes. Inserting a Britney Spears lyric and the foreignness of Twitter and Facebook into the remote British countryside briefly stirred the audience. Some jokes were so ludicrous that they were almost successful, producing little amusement. The overtly choregraphed fight scene between Desiree, played by Jodie Ellis and Amanda Walden's character, Melinda, forced us into a barrel (albeit half a barrel) of laughs.

Admirably, the cast did not go down without a fight, operating as a tag team with the audience as their opponents. Their was a sense of energy and comradeship in their performance, particularly in the second half when the pressure grew. A poorly received joke made by Ellis would be followed by a short, sweet and presumably unscripted remark by Walden. Similarly, Walden's corpsing was often saved by Ellis' quick improvisation which moved the scene in the right direction.

By the end of the performance the air of desperation had been replaced with an air of defeat. The audience finally waved the white flag, handing over some chuckles in return for their freedom while the cast apologetically surrendered and took their final bow. The battle for laughs was a long and tiresome feat; the Blanket Theatre will be remembered for their effort but the performance will be thankfully forgotten.

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