Coughing Sheep

Thu 6th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Rowena Henley

at 00:47 on 11th Aug 2015

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Coughing Sheep is a reviewer’s worst nightmare: combining both the ingeniously funny and the exceptionally inadequate, it is difficult to arrive at any kind of resolute opinion. The show began on a high, but slowly descended into chaos and confusion, losing the piece’s initial appeal by overstretching its comedy of errors.

This show was produced largely without sound and entirely without stage lighting: its success relied solely on the capabilities of its performers. Luckily, Lucy Frederick and Peter Henderson were a superb comedy duo. Performing as father and daughter, their relationship was wonderfully entertaining and, at moments, unexpectedly heart-warming.

The premise of this show was based on Frederick's desperate attempt to pull off the performance of a sophisticated Russian play. Yet her father (cast last minute as half the characters) shattered her hopes with his disastrous attempts at ‘becoming the character’. Henderson’s routine allowed for some hilarious explorations into the pretentiousness of acting. He delved into an actor’s instruction manual which told him that ‘acting is reacting’ and that one must find their ‘inner animal’. The subtlety and corrosiveness of Frederick’s disdain, combined with the blatancy of her desperation for theatrical perfection, made for some thoroughly entertaining family feuds.

Audience interaction can often go awry, with performers desperately clinging to the hope of finding some comedy gold from a source outside themselves. However, Frederick and Henderson weaved audience repartee effectively into the show, using it to amplify the ridiculousness of their characters and the hopelessness of their situation.

Sadly, the show suddenly took a turn for the worse. Once the ‘play within the play’ began, Coughing Sheep became a dizzy mess of misplaced jokes and amateurish ideas. This section of the show somewhat resembled a farce, but failed to produce a convincing representation of this complicated genre. The closing scenes ranged from the annoyingly absurd to the downright unwatchable.

Despite a disappointing ending, I would still describe Coughing Sheep as a gem of the Free Fringe. It has the inventiveness and comedic value that this festival’s punters are looking for and it most certainly would fill your evening with liveliness and laughter.

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Abigail Smith

at 09:12 on 11th Aug 2015

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A show where you have to tech it yourself (cover your eyes for blackout guys) may not sound that appealing. As Lucy Frederick and her “father” Peter Henderson showed, however, you don’t need a big budget to make a big impact. Frederick welcomed us in flowing black clothes, the epitome of drama-school darling. She charmingly patronised us, elongated every vowel in her sentences, and swayed as she breathlessly told us about the lost Russian masterpiece she was putting on. Though I, like her, was frankly devastated not to see Eddie ‘Fishlips’ Redmayne there, the prospect of watching Frederick and Henderson carrying the show seemed a promising one.

Henderson played the bumbling Dad to perfection, right down to the classic scolding to stop showing off in front of the audience — “it’s not big, and it’s not clever, young lady!”. He perfected enthusiastic incompetence, refusing to take off his emergency poncho, and insisting that his ‘Art of Becoming’ book was the fount of all knowledge.

Some of the funniest moments were when he filled the stereotype of the cluelessly un-PC old relative, much to Frederick’s horror. He also had moments of fantastic madness; the spontaneous impression of Ygritte from Game of Thrones, and his highly impressive list of tropical fish were highlights. Frederick was also brilliant; sternly disappointed and desperately trying to get the show on track, the rapport between the two was infectious, and the tiny audience happily interacted along with them. I loved every moment of Frederick’s desperate attempt to put her beloved show on.

It was a shame then, that so much of the performance was devoted to the ‘actual’ performance of Coughing Sheep. Initially, the classic tropes of one man playing three parts at once was funny, silly, and enjoyable. Accents were flying all over the shop, and Frederick’s posh old woman act was honed to perfection, as she affectionately patted sideboards and imaginary chandeliers. However, the farce soon wore thin, and I was confused as to what the mock show was meant to be about; by not using a real show, the comedy had to come solely from the silliness, which really started to drag towards the end. There were moments of brilliance, and some great one liners (“Business makes me spleen vibrate” was a personal favourite), but the show simply went on for too long.

Though it was a show of two halves; had there been more Lucy and Dad time I don’t think I would stop raving about it. Despite this, as a free show it is one I highly recommend, as the bits which were funny were hysterical It’s a witty, original, and utterly charming show — just one sabotaged by the length of its time slot.

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