The Election : A Silent Comedy

Sun 12th – Sat 18th August 2012

reviews

Steve Hartill

at 09:50 on 16th Aug 2012

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Silent comedy is a modern rarity, especially a show entirely dedicated to it. Modern tastes seem to have moved away from the era of slapstick, so Awkward Cough’s production of 'Election: A Silent Comedy' is already a brave but risky one. The stage is immediately interesting, with campaign posters suspended from the ceiling encouraging the audience to vote, a campaign strategy map near the far end of the stage, and purple table-cloths as decoration. It opens with a voiceover introduction to the Purple party, the political party that this three-man group represents, and the whole piece is set to music. This is at times, grating: for instance, they could use different music to set different moods and paces on stage, which would help slow down the occasionally frantic action of the three characters.

In fact, the action on stage is consistently hectic, which admittedly is how slapstick should be, but this show gives the audience no time to rest and reflect. For example, the party leader (Ian Farnell) ends up having a fight sequence with his two campaign advisors (Tom Booth, Samuel Oliver) but I have little to no idea why. When so much is happening on stage, it is easy to get lost within the action. The characters in the piece lack identity: Samuel Oliver’s bumbling supporter is only defined as the clumsy one, and despite the various quirks attributed to Ian Farnell’s character, he is no more clearly defined than the easily frustrated one. That being said, Tom Booth’s advisor character does have more of an obvious identity than the others, who portrays more of an actual character and not a joke machine.

The trio do have great teamwork on stage: they know where to be next and in the more complex stunts they all work fluidly together. Although some gags appear a little too frequently in the show, the creative ways that this group cause a mess on the stage are truly entertaining, and by the end of the show the set is visually spectacular. I do enjoy the concept of the show: it isn’t cutting, political satire, but it is fun, and it is just a shame that the hectic pace and the sometimes lack of imagination hold it back.

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Chelsey Stuyt

at 13:21 on 16th Aug 2012

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I am a fan of silent comedy. But it requires three things to be done well: perfect timing, a good soundtrack, and an indefinable talent for physical humour that cannot be taught. Awkward Cough's production of 'Election: A Silent Comedy' has so much potential – particularly in the third category, but is ultimately let down by poor music, a large stage, and a distracting voiceover.

But first, the good. The concept is excellent. It is the eleventh hour and the election is at hand. The party leader (a delightfully child-like Ian Farnell) is about to make his final speech. His two subordinates (Sam Oliver and Tom Booth) are earnestly preparing the room for both work and play. Classic slapstick ensues. The direction is strong and some of the gags (particularly the dance sequence between Oliver and Booth) elicit giggles from the audience. Booth in particular shines as the frustrated, responsible subordinate and the moments where he gets swept away in the madness, only to shake himself and return to work, offer one of the few emotional access points to the show. Oliver is a strong supporting player as the dopey supporter and may be one of the strongest examples of physical comedy that I've seen at the Fringe this year.

Unfortunately, there are many problems with the show. The most irritating is the music. The country fiddle track felt decidedly at odds with the 'Election' theme. On top of that, the tracks would change seemingly at random throughout the scene which made the show feel clumsy and disjointed. Either the songs should be looped so that there is no discernible change between them, or the points of change should be incorporated into the show and reflect a change in the scene.

Although the three actors are certainly talented, the speed of good slapstick was missing from this show. This may be due to the size of the stage and the distance of the action from the audience. Several steps means several seconds wasted – and comedy is all about timing. Also, the sound of the actors' feet on the stage at times overshadowed the music which was incredibly distracting.

The final major issue was the voiceover. First, it was played directly over the fiddle music which made it difficult to understand, and second, if this is a silent comedy, why is it there? It makes the audience question why speaking is allowed in one part of the show, and not in the other. By including the voiceover (even if it provides crucial plot development) the audience is almost forced to think that the show could have been improved with the addition of speech – the opposite of what Awkward Cough seems to intend.

Ultimately this is a very talented cast that, due to poor music, an overly large venue, and an unnecessary voiceover, is unable to give us a show that truly reflects their potential. This year's show may be a miss, but I look forward to whatever they come up with in the future.

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