Simply the Jest

Thu 1st – Sun 25th August 2013

reviews

Joshua Adcock

at 05:02 on 15th Aug 2013

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'Simply the Jest' is, if not quite the best, certainly a comedy troupe one would be hard-pressed to find serious fault with. The show delivers a medley of parodic takes on TV and advertising, absurd outbursts of surreality and awkwardness, and copious amounts of anti-humour.

The hour contained all sorts and varieties of setups for sketch comedy, including visual sketches based around the use of a projector. Gadgets like this can prove a dangerous temptation to play around with technology and neglect solid writing, but here the digital components served only to flesh out the already solid writing.

In style the show was full of self-consciously awkward performances with touches of deliberate idiocy, including a stage slap brilliantly delayed by about two seconds, and hilarious absurd outbursts such as ‘DON’T TELL ADOLF!’, which was as funny in context as it is bizarre out of context. Witty dialogue and delivery illuminated the majority of the best sketches, hitting just the right awkward tone, and carrying out the group’s mad scenes with child-like enthusiasm.

Some of the sketches, however, didn’t quite tie up their ideas adequately and some were hit-and-miss, including a rather slow sketch about Henry VIII, but these were the exception rather than the rule. Others still felt underdeveloped, including the brief ‘inappropriate apps’ segments. These elements were by no means comprehensibly unsuccessful though: the brevity of the ‘false hope app’, for instance, worked in its favour.

In general the sketches were quite roughly drawn out, starting with a good idea and often not building enormously on them, which was not always an issue but which sometimes created the feeling that sketches were simply left hanging. Having said that, there was one recurring sketch which became a sort of play-ette within the show, strung together across the hour, which worked well against the other scenes. Furthermore, some of the sketches took cues from other well known comedy acts, with one or two reminiscent of Mitchell and Webb, diluting the sense of originality.

There were a few moments of poor performance, but generally the show consisted of great comic timing and acting. There was entertaining work all around, including a brilliantly out-of-place piece of casting involving Dame Maggie Smith being played by a hairy Luke Theobald, with an alarmingly good vocal impression.

Awkward, playful and deliciously bizarre, this show surprises you throughout that the cast have actually been bold enough to go with the idea behind each sketch. So, while not always terribly original, the show is definitely daring, and, when the sketches did work well, they really did subvert expectations.

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Frank Lawton

at 00:57 on 16th Aug 2013

2agrees

0disagrees

Barbie hangs herself on ‘Blue Peter’ in the wake of a nuclear holocaust, while the presenter urges her viewers to follow suit; Eva Braun’s hen-night ends bloodily, but remember: ‘Don’t tell Adolf!’; a Guantanamo interrogator returns home to his friends and is not quite the same man that left them… 'Simply the Jest’ fully recognise that hilarity is often hiding in the darkest of moments.

This a troupe performing varied and, in many cases, original, intelligent and daring sketches that got better and better as the show progressed. What is most refreshing about watching this show is that it is not afraid to push boundaries and to challenge you, openly in the case of a couple of front row audience members. Oh, and it also makes you laugh. A lot.

Slick and confident from the start, a number of the early sketches fell flat, but this was rather more a result of weaker writing than any deficiencies of acting or timing on the part of the cast, who ranged from good to sublime, with no weak performers amongst them. Luke Theobald was superb in his impressions (a surreally good Maggie Smith being the choice selection), while Tristram Rogers freaked and disturbed with (unnerving) aptitude, and Jack Stanley manipulated his face into all manner of amusing contortions. As it transpired, the show is rather back-loaded in terms of its better material, and would be at no loss if some of the weaker filler material was cut and the length of the performance reduced by 15 minutes.

Among the many highlights are the 'Korean Tourist Board' film series (and the fantastic, ‘Producers’-esque song that concludes the final episode), the 'Inappropriate Iphone apps' series (which covers some courageous ground), and the lacerating satire of ‘Clothes Shed’: “where prices are as low as your self-esteem”. A personal favourite was the ‘Oscars Red Carpet’ sketch, which showcases ‘Simply the Jest’ at their best as a delusional, senile old man takes a lustful flight of fancy with a hilarious dénouement. The piece is all the better for its swift changes of direction, with moves from fast euphemisms to poignancy and even threat within the space of a blink.

All in all, despite the odd dud, this show was a great enjoyment, and was improved, not only by the sometimes challenging humour, but also by the moments of softness and poignancy which broke through the laughter. They even played bursts of good music between sketches, with not a note of ‘Simply the Best’ to be heard.

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