EFR - Reviews of A History, w Nowell Edmurnds

A History, w Nowell Edmurnds

Sat 13th – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Miriam Brittenden

at 10:17 on 18th Aug 2016

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This is one of those during which the audience just sits there consciously waiting for the end. From start to finish, this show is just odd, bad and distasteful. It is supposedly a ‘surrealist’ sketch show by previous Oxford Revue member Josh Dolphin, about a fictitious celebrity called ‘Nowell Edmurnds’, involving interviews with his previous contemporaries. Perhaps an idea with some potential, unfortunately this potential is never realised.

Lacking any kind of coherency, the show yo-yoes between sketches about Nowell’s headmaster, his great uncle, distant relatives: forced and abstract, with no real comedic value. These sketches are interchanged with some even more bizarre pieces including one on Ed Milliband’s Dad, ‘Ralph Milipede’, a baby bird, a sequence in which Josh gyrates furiously with a photo of the real Noel Edmunds placed on his crotch, for far too long (with no pre or post-explanation), and various clips of Jimmy Savile being interviewed which verge on inappropriate. The five members of the audience seem to agree, judging by the stony silence which greets every gag.

Poorest about this show, however, is its lack of structure or comic timing, the show has a feeling of being slung together with little thought behind it. It is true that abstract, inexplicable humour is popular right now, but that kind of humour is meticulously well crafted, and this just isn't. Even the show’s key premise is lost as apparently random sketches are thrown in sporadically and without build up, leaving me with the feeling that the show is going nowhere.

The pace and tone is rushed and desperate at times, with little variation between sketches. The effect of this is discomfort for the audience, and the performance feels as though they are watching someone who has drunk too much just make a bit of a fool of themselves.

Also unprofessional – the way Dolphin keeps apologising for himself throughout, but it is difficult to tell if this is part of the production, or just a lapse into unprofessionalism in response to the stony wall the gags are meeting.

Perhaps a slight saving grace of the performance is the lighting and sound. Pre-recordings, and the use of projections create a dystopian atmosphere which, in another context, could be effective. Dolphin is clearly a passionate and enthusiastic performer, and the energy he throws into the show is certainly impressive, but what counts ultimately is the content. It falls far short of expectations.

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Laura Whetherly

at 11:11 on 18th Aug 2016

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The lowlight of this show is when Josh Dolphin, our host for the evening, begins, without explanation or warning, to gyrate his hips manically, grimacing and clasping a picture of Nowell Edmurnds over his crotch. This bizarre phenomenon only lasts for around thirty seconds, but feels like a lifetime- oddly enough a feeling which recurs throughout the following hour-long performance. The highlight of this show is when it was time to leave.

Dolphin’s central concept is the idea of taking an imaginary minor celebrity (Nowell Edmurnds, which is of course, deeply amusing, because it sounds like Noel Edmunds) and telling the story of their life through a series of sketches performed by people whose lives have been touched by him. The reality, however, is an hour of Dolphin doing silly voices, prancing across the stage and showing disjointed video clips featuring minor celebrities without any real clear narrative purpose.

For some perspective on the quality of the comedy, it is worth pointing out that there were initially nine people in the audience at the performance we saw. Within five minutes, four had left. Of the remaining five, three of us were reviewers.

To his credit, Dolphin is a good actor, and flip-flopped between bizarre situations and characters with confidence. To his detriment, it seems that he has struggled to marry an interest in the bizarre with creating a comprehensible or interesting performance. Dolphin has the makings of a potentially good show in places as he chastises the audience in the character of a stern schoolmaster, and mimics Andy Murray. However, the ability to do silly voices does not a comedian make. There are also a few sections of the show which were edging into the completely inappropriate – mimicking a 'mental breakdown' by rolling around squawking on the floor, and trying to make some joke about Jimmy Saville – and leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

There are a few references to how awful the show is, with Dolphin quoting someone who called him “not even worthy to be called ‘shit’, as that would imply it has some substance”, not clear whether this was meant to be falsely self-deprecating or not. In a show where this is probably a fair criticism, this comes across instead as awkward and inappropriate.

I want to be able to write a review praising Dolphin for a clever, well-thought out piece of alternative comedy, and to say I’d come away from his show with food for thought. Unfortunately, 'A History' is reduced to one man’s incoherent ramblings, a vacuous, self-satisfied and ultimately very poor show.

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