The Jest

Wed 30th July – Sun 24th August 2014

reviews

Isobel Cockerell

at 02:53 on 15th Aug 2014

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Jest is a frantically fast paced sketch show performed by a young and exciting group of five Exeter graduates, who have raw talent by the shedload. Fittingly, then, they are playing at the ‘This’ shed at Pleasance Courtyard, and within they create a charming, buzzy atmosphere. Their sketches vary in tone and content, and the whole thing makes for a heady experience.

These guys have lots of potential. They are all talented and charismatic, but one of them, Luke Theobald, shows a startling amount of promise. His portrayal of Maggie Smith is simply faultless, not to mention hysterical – which, for a beefy redhead bloke in his twenties, is no mean feat. It truly, spine-tinglingly, feels like Dame Maggie is there with us in the room. His Jim Broadbent is just as brilliant, and the audience is left in stitches. This guy needs his own show – now. The others are also pretty strong: Bryony Twydle in particular is an excellent impersonator and entertainer, and she carries many of the scenes with real flair.

There is some very original stuff to be seen here. There is one sketch about a woman going on holiday with her corpse of a husband, with corresponding Kodak moment slides depicting the rigor mortis…OK, you have to be there, but it is bloody genius. Unfortunately, however, the writing can be quite inconsistent at times. The variation in quality was almost disorienting: some of the sketches simply don’t work at all, while others are completely inspired. One minute you’re sitting in sullen silence; the next, you can’t breathe for laughing. There are strange sketches in between which rely on nervous laughter as a result of copious amounts of yelling and not very much else. One low point is a borderline tasteless sketch about nuclear war, although the tone generally is pretty well pitched.

There are also a couple of clichéd tropes: Ukraine jokes, partial nudity, Harry Potter references…it’s almost as if every Fringe sketch show feels obliged to mention certain crowd pleasing topics. These guys are better than that, and would do well to drop some of their more broad-based content and, in doing so, harness their innate originality.

On the whole, this show embodies the spirit of the Fringe – clichés and all. Here are five talented young people finding their feet in writing and comedy. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but there is real potential here, and it’s a joy to witness.

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Ben Hickey

at 09:43 on 15th Aug 2014

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Fresh from their well-received appearances alongside the likes of Thom Tuck on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sketchorama’, ‘The Jest’ deliver a frenetic and absurdist hour of sketch comedy at the Pleasance. Forgoing perceived ‘safe’ topics to which so many other burgeoning sketch troupes resort, these sketches include a pair of deranged ghost-hunters, public service announcements about nuclear war, the fictional East European state of Bonjela (like the teething gel…?) and repeated appearances from Maggie Smith.

It becomes apparent that the madder the scenarios, the funnier this show becomes. The confidence the group have in their show is evidenced by the way they bring in slideshows and a wide array of sound effects to make their sketches as immersive as possible. The willingness to flesh out the material in this way demonstrates an assurance not usually on display from comedians this young. Not that these technical features could be seen as covering up any weaknesses in the jokes. Their being chosen for Radio 4 performances is no fluke; each cast member has considerable vocal dexterity which enables them to tap into veins of comedy to which other sketch shows simply don’t have access.

Audience participation is also integral to the show’s charm. If being forced to sit and watch a man slowly strip in front of you to the sound of ‘Only You’ by Yazoo sounds like your idea of a great night’s entertainment, the front row of this show is the place to be.

What is also striking is the sheer quantity of material that this quintet has been able to fit into an hour. Scene changes occur at a breathless pace and with the vast number of sketches in the group’s arsenal keeping a handle on the running order, not to mention transitioning from character to character, is an impressive feat. In particular, the strange penchant which Luke Theobald has for squeezing some of Britain’s most beloved actors, from Jim Broadbent to a hilariously hysterical Maggie Smith, into the most commonplace of situations while still having the skill to make it funny, is remarkable.

Not all of the sketches work and some of the shorter ones have the unmistakable whiff of filler. But in such an experimental show having a few duds is inevitable, and such is the show’s pace that these failures are quickly brushed under the carpet. Sharp and sophisticated while retaining a carefully managed chaotic air, ‘The Jest’ surely have a bright Fringe future ahead of them.

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