Thespianage

Thu 15th – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Victoria Ferguson

at 09:39 on 20th Aug 2013

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‘Thespianage’ is a collection of sketches strung together by the thread of an investigation to try to uncover the secrets of the 400Hats comedy quartet. Dark glasses, Chicago accents and unbreakable lines of code being yelled out as though the boys had Tourette’s – “crouching tiger, hidden dragon!” – the Bangor University foursome were wonderfully ridiculous from the beginning.

The audience warmed to the group immediately and so, impressively, they were getting enthusiastic laughs for as little as donning a blonde wig and a wispy female voice. Admittedly, as the tallest of the four, Roddy Shaw did make an amusing ‘Jane’.

Unfortunately, though another wig made an appearance in the sketch that followed, even cross-dressing couldn’t redeem it for me. In a scene about a man who walks in on his best friend in bed with his girlfriend, the humour was built upon the hope that references to various sex positions would be naughty enough to get a giggle from the middle-aged dear in the second row. I just found it a bit silly. My general view is that dependence upon swearing and crude sex jokes for laughs reveals a want of better ideas.

That said, most of the material was very funny. Personal highlights were a scene set in a clown army unit and a Top 10 featuring an angry break-up song by Adele (of course), Michael Bublé with ‘Something Sinatra Sang’, and the X Factor winner at #1 with a key-change-heavy rendition of ‘Overcoming Adversity.’

Unfortunately, the boys were quite obviously conscious of the fact that they were just acting and so didn’t successfully immerse themselves in their various roles. Josh Fenby-Taylor was particularly guilty of this. While he did provide some very entertaining moments, he delivered all of his lines with the ghost of a smile. I felt as though perhaps I should assure him that he needn’t laugh at his own jokes throughout the evening because, if they were any good, I’d do that for him.

But let me finish on a more positive note because the individuals that make up 400Hats do have talent. To claim that “there was something for everyone” would be to use a tired and often all too generous cliché, but I certainly found their material remarkably accessible to a very wide audience. ‘Thespianage’ is a showcase of clever comedy by a group of young men who have a talent for making astute social observations and – well – taking the mickey. Personally, I was more impressed by their writing than their delivery, but I’ve no doubt that with a little training and maturity, 400Hats could become a real hit at the Fringe and beyond.

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Kayte Williams

at 11:19 on 20th Aug 2013

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It makes me angry that this show didn't have as big, or even bigger, an audience as the Cambridge Footlights. The slighter greater ages of 'The 400 Hats' group gave the four-man cast the confidence to develop the situations in their comedy sketches before delivering the strong punchlines, and the audience's lack of expectations let them enjoy themselves with none of the nervous desperation to be funny that spoils a lot of amateur comedy. In 'Thespianage', the four guys really seem to be having fun. Unashamed of their awful puns (the comedic strategist General Merriment for example) but also confident to embark on flights of Shakespearean dialogue, they seem masters of every style.

It may not all be cutting-edge comedy, with the traditional material of pub, doctors' surgery, and Monty Python references all involved. However, it's pleasant to watch sketches with a strong structure and repeating elements, such as the doctor who diagnoses all his patients as cancer-ridden, even the man with a cold who apparently is afflicted with 'bogey cancer'. One disappointing element of the show is that women tend to be always ridiculous and silly, but elsewhere there are no lazy stereotypes and the sketches are pure invention. A fatness coach replaces a fitness coach for example, condemning those who cheat by turning to surgery for an increased girth. Playing with the sketch form also inspires the cast to perform the amazing feat of twenty-three sketches in three minutes, bravely exposing the simple formula behind every winning sketch.

Another attractive element to the show comes from a plotline running throughout, where four detectives track the actors themselves in a mission of search and destroy – hence, the title 'Thespianage'. This structure imbues the show with a feel of being carefully planned and considered, making up for the hurried atmosphere the venue creates through having too quick a show turn-around. However, nothing is too highbrow, with a quick fun bit of audience participation thrown in. It's handled so confidently and comfortably that even one audience member's spontaneous interpretation of a Rorschach ink blot test as an episode of Bargain Hunt can't upstage the cast. I hope no such strange individuals sit next to you when you come and see the show.

If I had to pick one actor destined for stardom it would be Patrick Pritchard, whose willingness to transform himself into any type of character for laughs is highly impressive. While Josh Fenby-Taylor shines out most brightly in the acting department, the skills of all the cast will make you believe you're seeing far more than four actors on the stage. There may be a few shows at the Fringe as inventive in their material as 'Thespianage', but none I've seen with such relaxed confidence on the stage. The extra few years 'The 400 Hats' have spent working together since meeting at university in North Wales gives them a real superiority over less experienced sketch groups.

I'd recommend these guys, not only for their excellently funny show, but to look out for in the future in higher circles of fame.

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