The Canon: a Literary Sketch Show

Mon 3rd – Thu 27th July 2017

reviews

Eloise Heath

at 17:28 on 21st Aug 2017

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The cast of ‘The Canon’, dotted around the stage, leaf through books as Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ plays on. I get the feeling this is going to be my kind of show. Ricocheting from classic to classic, By No Mean Feet put their gleeful spin on everything from ‘Macbeth’ to ‘Matilda’. Joyfully this is a show as funny as it is smart, providing serious laughs as well as serious literature, all with a Python-esque charm.

The material strikes a perfect balance between the highbrow and the accessible, the subtle and the silly. Whilst for one gag you need to know that John Milton went blind, for another you need only appreciate the comedy of a ridiculously oversized fake moustache. Highlights include Philius Fogg’s awkward slip of the tongue, a reimagining of the meeting between the weird sisters and Macbeth, and a niche Harry Potter reference that had me in tears of laughter. The literary theme provides cohesion, but never feels restrictive. Call backs to earlier jokes are used sparingly but to great effect, further integrating the sketches. The result: a show that feels playful but coordinated.

I acknowledge completely that, having just finished an English degree, I am the exact target audience for this literary sketch show. Still some of the references fly over my head, but when they do I end up laughing anyway. I don’t know who the two Greek characters trying to find one another in a fog are, or from which piece of literature this sketch hails, but watching a cast member fondle an audience member’s ear shouting “Ajax?! Your war-like earlobes betoken it be you?!” is just plain funny.

A sequence based on ‘Where’s Wally’ falls a little flat, the punchline seeming to come at the beginning of the scene, which then flags as it continues for the next mixture or so. Similarly, the sketch about gender normativity in King Arthur’s court is a little weak, which is a shame- the writing doesn’t pack its normal punch here, despite the amusing and pertinent premise. However, these two exceptions prove the general rule that the jokes in ‘The Canon’ land. Two misses in a slew of hits is incredibly impressive.

The, mostly excellent, material is carried off by a talented and slick cast. All the performances are strong, but the show features many stand out turns from Raphael Wakefield. He shines as Filius Fog, a keyboard playing Bruce Bogtrotter, and a pouty diva-ish Wilfred Owen, acting “like a pretentious lemon”. Justin Blanchard makes a winningly appearance as a gullible, air headed Sultan from ‘1001 Arabian Nights’, and Sasha Brooks gives an impressive performance as a malicious and manipulative Matilda.

‘The Canon’ is sketch comedy done right: zesty, silly, polished. One for book lovers, and anyone interested in seeing the rising stars of sketch comedy.

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