No Funny Business

Sun 12th – Mon 27th August 2018

reviews

Millie Haswell

at 13:31 on 15th Aug 2018

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A dark stage. A single performer, gazing confoundedly into the audience. The sound of ‘S Club Party’ faintly playing in the background. Simon Hall, the fictional comedian who punctuates the meta-theatrical sketch show ‘No Funny Business’, is under fire for some dubious behaviour back when he worked for the BBC in the 1970s: he is accused of not actually having been funny.

Through a series of sketches, some featuring and some supposedly written by Simon Hall, the comedy group Sketch Club Seven paint a picture of a national treasure being dragged through the mud by the law, the media and his own scriptwriters. Relevant and political, the show nods to news stories but remains light-hearted, never attempting truly biting satire. It works though; the performance shies away from engaging too vehemently with current affairs in a way that fits with their delightfully silly and surreal style. They play the fool in a way that requires real intelligence.

In comedy it’s that the audience trusts the performers onstage. Admittedly, the opening few sketches of ‘No Funny Business’ involve funny moments but enough bad punch lines that initially it’s difficult to feel at ease in Sketch Club Seven’s company. A superhero-and-villain duologue starts promisingly, with ‘Amazingman’ accusing his nemesis of anti-Semitism for bombing Finchley, inducing scattered laughter as an evil mastermind stutteringly defends his political correctness. The ending, however, feels weak, with ‘Dr Villain’ pointing out that the hero is in the Ku Klux Klan – “So we’re both racists!” Another sketch consists of Simon Hall complaining to his scriptwriter that people no longer laugh at his jokes. The audience waits for a gag, and is met with a disappointing ending: the writer says, “Well stop being so shit, then!” and they march offstage.

As show progresses, though, the energy, eagerness to please and scrubbed schoolboy appearance of the four male performers begins to seem more endearing and charming than inexperienced. Full of personality, they address the audience directly to great effect. A highlight is when they pull a front row viewer up to dance with them ("we won’t bite!") before having a go at them for breaking the sacred line between audience and stage – ‘in the old days we’d snap your knees off’. The speaker’s button nose, rosy cheeks and widened blue eyes create a brilliant moment of comedy as he tries to be sinister – the environment created is amiable, as though the performers are old friends we make fun of and share niche in-jokes with.

Moreover, many of the sketches are really entertaining. At one point, God and the angel Gabriel discuss the imminent publishing of God’s ‘novel’ that he is writing. When God mumbles that he should finish writing the Bible in “two years or so”, Gabriel coaxes him to “Get a life. Get a girlfriend!” rather than waste time on this project that “is never going to happen.” Later, a parody physical theatre sequence is created, based around a Simon Hall joke about pigs in blankets which prompted controversy. Gary Jules’ melancholy cover of ‘Mad World’ plays as one performer in a pig mask is earnestly wrapped in a fluffy blanket by three others; the result is ridiculous and hilarious.

Driven by the plight of Simon Hall, a Steve Coogan-esque comedy caricature, Sketch Club Seven win over their viewers with many a nudge and a wink, inviting us into their very, very mad world.

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