The Dead Secrets present... The Curiositorium

Thu 6th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Michael Roderick

at 12:03 on 16th Aug 2015

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If the usual sketch show strings a series of scenes together, often wildly absurd, and sometimes conjoined by some loose, overarching style or theme, then The Dead Secrets’ The Curiositorium does it differently: the whole thing was much more narrative-driven and coherent, and the scenes gelled together sometimes as if it were just a normal drama.

The Dead Secrets certainly come with a string of accolades: they won the Buxton Fringe best comedy show last year and were London SketchFest finalists this year, and the audience I was in was pretty full. Despite this, it wasn’t particularly riotous and there wasn’t that much laughter. I barely tittered and I wasn’t alone; at one point I saw one woman look wearily at the man beside her. This isn’t to say that the acting was poor or the energy was lacking. On the contrary, the group were full of oomph; the acting was swift, fun and quirky. It’s the material that’s lacking. It was so goofy and childish (in the worst possible way) that it occasionally made me cringe. In terms of sophistication and quality, there are many better things to see at the Fringe.

As I say, there is a coherent narrative and each scene fits perfectly together. The story concerns the doings of Penelope Bygone (Ida Persson), a museum curator who must overcome the traumas of her past and defeat the nefarious ‘Shadow People’ in order to reopen the eponymous Curiositorium, a museum of dark antiquities and weird monsters. As I say, the acting was energetic and joyous. Particularly noteworthy was Persson as Bygone, whose gormless and innocent expression ensured that the fulcrum of the narrative turned well. Talented, too, was Nathan Grassi, who was campy and quick-tongued, and who most certainly won the most laughs.

Unfortunately, the actual comedy was profoundly lacklustre. I don’t mind silly – I actually often like silly – but this play was silly in ways that only disadvantaged it. For instance, the inclusion of a character called ‘Sputtoms’ (Jen Sugden), a demented little imp created by a mad professor, seemed to fit more in a children’s comedy show. It would have been fine had this been ironic or sarcastic or satiric, but it simply wasn’t. Or, at least, there wasn’t a large enough sense of irony to engender laughs from such material. This was a shame, considering the talent of the acting, which was often in evidence. So I suppose I would suggest you look elsewhere if you want a higher-level laugh. But, if you’re happy with the childish and simply silly, then maybe you’ll like this.

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Katie Heath-Whyte

at 13:07 on 16th Aug 2015

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The Dead Secrets’ Curiositorium drew a large crowd to Underbelly’s Belly Dancer this afternoon, and promised a “labyrinthine” sketch show of epic proportions. Whilst the performers exuded energy from start to finish, this kooky comedy relied heavily on silliness and slapstick humour which often fell short of the mark.

Though advertised as such, The Curiositorium was not a sketch show in the conventional sense. The show followed the story of Dr Penelope Bygone in her quest into a mysterious world of strange villains and quirky museums, and whilst these characters provided many set pieces, these lacked the coherence of individual sketches.

Many lines did prove very funny, and gained laughs from the audience. Jen Sugden’s performance as Sputtoms, the endearingly stupid hybrid creation, deserves a special mention. Her physicality and comic timing made for a memorable character reminiscent of a cuddly Gollum. Indeed, all of the performers were competent, and switched easily between different personas and accents. Unfortunately certain elements, such as Bygone’s aversion to risk, were overacted and unfunny.

The stage, though admittedly small, could have been used more inventively, but the production as a whole ran smoothly. Lights, sound and smoke created successfully surreal scenes, adding to the bizarre nature of the story. Costumes were also well used, and a Pan’s Labyrinth-esque monster was actually rather scary.

It was the script and storyline that prevented The Curiositorium’s many promising elements from combining into an outstanding show. The story seemed overlong and muddled, a product partly of its risky quest-like structure. Clearly struggling to find its place between a comedy and a sketch show, the numerous activities of Dr Bygone failed to entertain for the full hour set. Some of the writing reveals a playful creativity – certain characters’ knack for wordplay eliciting many a grin. Yet the lack of any truly side-splitting jokes left the script distinctly average.

Despite the story’s pitfalls, the show is fun, eccentric, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The actors show real talent and their enjoyment is evident. Ida Berglow Persson holds the show together with her strong presence, and the cast thrive particularly when all together on stage.

Though Curiositorium is difficult to place alongside the plethora of outstanding comedy at the Fringe, the cast that make up The Dead Secrets show true potential for further projects.

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