Dates Sketch Show

Wed 2nd – Sat 19th August 2017

reviews

Eleanor Lawson

at 12:34 on 11th Aug 2017

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Regardless how traumatic a dating experience you’ve had, at least you can console yourself with the fact you didn’t take the term ‘blind date’ too literally. ‘Dates’ is a smart sketch show on the trials and tribulations of dating, from ‘Tudor Tinder’ to ‘Menopausal Match Dot Com’.

From light-hearted pun based sketches that sees Sarah Borg’s character take the concepts of various types of dating too literally, to the farcical musical number ‘Let’s Pay Tribute To The Patriarchy’, Rebecca Heitlinger’s writing is a refreshing take on casual dating. There are some brilliant one-liners, including a particular crowd-pleaser about Henry VIII’s love of “giving head”, and a fantastic Tudor reimagining of the acronym MILF.

Each of the five actors takes on different roles throughout the show, although there is more diversity in some actors’ characters than others, utilizing the various strengths of the different performers. While everyone gives a strong performance and works well as an ensemble, it is the effervescent Sarah Borg who steals the show. Her range is unparalleled, and she can transition from an eratic, insecure serial dater to a sexually adventurous pensioner (who has a wickedly fantastic line about her husband’s ashes) with absolute ease. Each character is completely distinct in their physicality, and she succeeds in fleshing out both an individual character and a social type. Borg definitely has a bright performing future ahead of her.

Of course, this is not a one-woman show and every member of the cast gives an impressive performance. Rebecca Heitlinger has not only written and directed the show, but also gives brilliant turns as a Patriarchy-bound all-singing princess and a fussing mother concerned over her daughter’s dating life. James Swaden also excels as Count Tinder – who ironically uses another famous dating service – and Heitlinger’s on-stage husband, bringing high energy levels to each scene. Oli Thompson is particularly good at playing Christian – who has to masquerade as a David to please his girlfriend’s Jewish parents – and serves as an effective foil for Sarah Borg’s high-energy speed dater, exuding a calmer, drier energy. As a Tudor preteen seeking a husband through Tinder, Jess Bailes performs strongly, and sells the awkward nature of someone struggling to balance the forces of their parents and partner at dinner.

As a piece of new writing, ‘Dates’ shows much creativity and verve for which Heitlinger should be proud. In particular, her show exposes the sinister and uncomfortable undertones to dating, from the misogyny and incest of historical dating, to the shame and embarrassment of the present. Some sketches are definitely more energized and complex than others, but overall this is a refreshing addition to the Fringe and a definite crowd-pleaser.

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Zoe Boothby

at 12:49 on 11th Aug 2017

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The phenomena and perils of modern dating are now commonplace material for comedians, as many of us attempt to navigate a world in which the difference between left and right means more than ever before. Enter stage left (or stage right, if you will), ‘Dates’, a new comedy sketch show written and directed by Rebecca Heitlinger and with a cast of fellow Oxford students. The sketches are various, and variously successful: Heitlinger’s hypothesising on the possibility of Tinder in Tudor times works very well as a piece, and reveals some of the truths of modern dating to be universal – we have always, and will always, objectify, whether based on looks or wealth. Deal with it. James Swaden was particularly great here as Count Tinder, the force behind the matches of the Dark Ages. However, other sketches, such as the penultimate one featuring Jewish parents, felt slightly forced and not as slick as they should have done for a rehearsed sketch piece.

Sarah Borg’s performance was singularly impressive as a woman attempting to find love through the trials of dating: her acting opposite a date (and by this I mean a literal date) was fantastic, and something I didn’t realise I needed to see until I did. Also notable were her efforts at speed dating, again, you guessed it, dating whilst high on speed. She held together some of the segments with weaker writing, for example, a sketch based on the premise of ‘blind dating’ a blind man felt tenuous. I would hazard that most people already know and understand the concept of blind dating, and so wouldn’t expect their date to be visually impaired. The conceit of this particular date felt forced, but Borg ensured that it remained watchable and enjoyable. Another mention must go to Oli Thompson, who was a very likeable stage presence, and an excellent date (again, literal).

It was difficult to discern a consistent thread of exploration throughout the sketches, and this seemed to be the show’s greatest weakness. It could perhaps do with analysing its structure, as the chronology of the skits did not seem to make explicit sense, bar closing with a musical number, which was a stroke of genius. If the historical angle had been drawn out further and the segments with Borg laced into one the show would have felt like a cohesive whole as opposed to a smattering of sketches with little in common. To say this, however, is not to diminish the power of many of Heitlinger’s wry observations. Especially those concerning the double standards modern feminism has created: is it not perfectly reasonable to offer to split the bill and then be annoyed when your date accepts? And at least trying to be a vegetarian counts, right?

‘Dates’ is an ambitious piece with some fantastic acting, and though it offers some hilarious moments, a couple of its sketches fall flat. However, the final musical number is a rousing moment, and offers the best of Heitlinger’s satire.

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