EFR - Reviews of Not Quite Write

Not Quite Write

Fri 5th – Sat 20th August 2016

reviews

Kate Nicholson

at 11:10 on 13th Aug 2016

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'Not Quite Right' indeed. What promised to be a bizarre sketch show, a show within a show as the actors pretend to be comics trying to critique sketches from the general public (I know) I can only describe as negatively eccentric.

With one pun amongst awkward sexual reference followed by another pun, it was definitely unique. The characters consistently berated the poor quality of the sketches that had been submitted (that being the main frame for all their performances), but that is not an excuse for the non-enthusiastic acts. Whoever thought that a sketch where Italian American gangsters hold a restaurant owner at gunpoint just to get his spaghetti Bolognese recipe was funny? And worse, who thought this would be the best piece with which to open?

With characters such as the superhero ‘Butterfeet’ (let's not go into those puns there) gracing the stage, the majority of the jokes feel as though they would be exclusively funny to the friends of the performers – rather than a crowd from the public.

Admittedly, after the first half of the sketches, they really get into their stride. Their sketch regarding Sigmund Freud is the highlight of the show in my opinion, as they play on the relationship he would have had with his mother with fluidity, where wordplay is not simply the scraps of humour that hold up the sketch, but instead unexpected additional wit and verve.

Yet, there is always a line with comedy between being tongue in cheek and being flat-out offensive, and where poor taste ensues. They may err towards the latter in a couple of sketches, but those are, in fact, altogether the more successful pieces. There are just too many sketches which don't quite take off, including a sketch where they break the fourth wall and ask us how much we paid for the performance. ‘Was it truly worth it?’ One of the actors asks. (I was not sure how to answer that one). Perhaps if this sketch had concluded the show, instead of occurring in the middle, then it would have tickled me more. Instead it feels out of place; as though the actors are trying to backtrack out of responsibility for their performance. Just because you know it may be bad, that does not mean that you can excuse it easily by acknowledging that. Self-deprecation has its limits. It is as if they are trying to give themselves a get-out clause for not being funny.

It is an undeniably original piece, topical and self-aware – think Oscar Pistorius, think Malaysian airlines – but it is up to you whether you would like to see a piece where even the actors are not sure if they are being funny.

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Sebastian Ng

at 11:18 on 13th Aug 2016

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The setup: four staff members in a writers’ room for the sketch department of a television station attempt to cobble together a new show by sifting through suggestions of sketches from the wider public, a new concept they attempt to christen the “Great British Sketch-off!” The joke here is that many of the sketches – which the performers themselves act out in three batches, in between the writers’ room scenes – do not work, adding to their frustrations and eliciting petulant complaints.

The problem: what does it mean, in this context, to say 'the sketches do not work’? In effect, for 'Not Quite Write' to work, the sketches within it need to fail in a manner that is ironically or satirically funny to the actual audience sitting in front of the performers – in other words, they cannot literally ’not work', or else the only people having any fun in the room are the four performers themselves. Unfortunately, for many of the sketches, they literally do not work; more damning is the fact that almost none of the sketches in the first and last batches generate much laughter, a fatal violation of the axiom that shows should begin and end strongly.

Full disclosure: I’m self-conscious about the fact that some of the jokes might have whizzed past my head, as I am an international student from Malaysia, albeit one with a few years’ experience in this country, and a love for British television sketch shows like 'Big Train' and 'Smack the Pony'. The sketches that did make me chuckle are ones that are not inherently dependent on British cultural references, i.e. the one about the Gutenberg press, the family Freud, and the one about Stevie Wonder’s slip-up.

But the larger problem is that the puns and wordplay are rarefied – few of them are truly creative or funny, and many of them lose their flavour because the buildup takes too long. When the performers complain, tongue-in-cheek, about the drivel (their own choice of word) they are performing, it should come across as an ironic statement, rather than feel like an assessment of the show itself – or a convenient get-out clause for the production. The performers themselves are adequate but not exceptional, offering passable comedic timing and accent work. With more work put into tightening the sketches (and outright culling some of those in the first and last batches), and more time spent in creative development to generate puns and wordplay that aims for more ambition than mere amusement, there is potential for this to be a clever and humorous show.

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