EFR - Reviews of Speechless

Speechless

Thu 2nd – Sun 26th August 2018

reviews

India Greenland

at 09:57 on 12th Aug 2018

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'Speechless' is, exactly as the title suggests, entirely without dialogue. The introductory video explains that, in the dystopian world of 2020 where Jacob Rees-Mogg is Prime Minister, comedic speech has been banned. This group of rebels are forced to use other means to try to make people laugh – the concept provides a nice frame for the performance. Described as an "experimental multimedia sketch show", 'Speechless' uses physical theatre, dances, miming, videos, sound effects, even sounds from the audience to make people laugh – anything but their own voices. While this is a great new idea in the world of comedy sketch shows where it is hard to be original, the lack of speech does mean that this show has to work harder than others to produce laughs.

The use of technology is outstanding in ‘Speechless’ – unsurprisingly, considering the group that puts it on is the Cambridge University Performance Technology Society. They used and sound and video in an incredibly imaginative way, and the cast were perfectly in time with every single one of the many sound effects. There wasn’t a single technological hitch or problem in the show, giving it a very professional feel.

Every video was impeccably made and some were very clever. In one sketch, the cast played Pom-Bears inside a packet of crisps, managed in an incredibly original and clever way. There were genius moments that developed from ideas like these that truly showed the potential of the excellent cast, who are all undoubtedly very funny and talented people.

However, sketches like someone choking on an apple and not being able to be helped by a doctor because ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ seemed, frankly, immature. There’s also nothing really ‘laugh out loud’ funny about a girl on the floor pretending to be a slug while someone pours salt on her. I was slightly disappointed with the basic level of some of the show's humour, which I wasn’t really expecting.

It was also a shame that so much of the acting was performed sitting down or lying on the floor, as the staging meant that most of the audience missed huge chunks. The people at the front seemed to be laughing, so I guess those bits were good but, from my seat about halfway back, I really wouldn’t know.

Overall, the sketches were mostly funny, if not hilarious. There really were some excellent moments, but also some incredibly juvenile ones. The idea behind 'Speechless' is fantastic and the technology is amazing, so it’s definitely worth an hour of your time this Fringe – even if it’s not perfect.

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Siobhan Stack-Maddox

at 10:16 on 12th Aug 2018

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It's 2020 and Jacob Rees-Mogg has banned free speech. What's a performer to do? Create 'Speechless' theatre, of course. That is, to continue to perform, only without using the spoken word. I love the concept and I'm already laughing during the opening video clips of interviews with students about the impact of Rees-Mogg's "Speechless Bill", with one recalling how "they castrated Basil Brush on the 'One Show'", which earns a roar of laughter from the audience. Things are off to a good start and I'm optimistic about the show ahead of me.

As soon as the performance begins, it's clear that this sketch show is unique and highly original. The tech side of the show is as slick as one would expect from Cambridge University Performance Technology Society. Numerous different forms of media, including projected images, voiceovers and a soundtrack, which ranges from classical music to a re-written Mambo No.5, are employed to great effect. Without dialogue, the Society have clearly put a great deal of thought into the visual and aesthetic elements of their show, with simple striped costumes, luminous 3D cubes employed both as props and set features, and an ingenious use of props throughout the performance.

The sketches are an innovative combination of silly humour, ingenuity, physical comedy and dance. The cast have a strong onstage dynamic, creating individual personalities through gesture and their interactions with one another. Although there's some great content, it does sometimes feel a bit like a work in progress. For me, some sketches were much stronger and funnier than others. However, sometimes the action was hard to follow because the height of the stage made it impossible to see what was going on when cast members were seated or kneeling on the floor, even from the raised seating at the rear of Underbelly Cowgate's White Belly. This was especially unfortunate in a performance without dialogue. It meant that some sketches were almost entirely lost for me, but chuckles from the front row indicated that those who could see were enjoying it. A personal highlight included the Pom-Bear sketch, in which the cast became the teddy-bear shaped crisps inside the packet, awaiting their fate of being eaten – this had the audience in stitches.

Even if, despite its preface and premise, the content of the show isn't overtly political, framing it in this way gives it a thought-provoking resonance, inviting the audience to consider the power of comedy and communication beyond words. It's a promising Fringe debut and if the Society work on making the content side of the production as polished as the tech aspects, this has the makings of a great show.

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