A Year of Minutes

Sat 5th August 2017

reviews

Kiya Evans

at 09:19 on 6th Aug 2017

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Hamish Clayton’s ‘A Year of Minutes’ is Fringe comedy at its finest, able to transform the most mundane of topics - the goings on of a residential estate committee - into an hour of comic hilarity. Not only will you leave the Serenity Cafe laughing, you’ll feel uplifted from the nuanced human performances by its cast. The writing, music, and staging result in an almost Wes Anderson-esque piece, which does not fail to continuously engage and amuse the audience, and is generally charming and witty.

Following the affairs of the Kristofferson Residential Committee, 'A Year Of Minutes' not only features excellent new writing from Hamish Clayton, but also sustained eccentricity and impressive characterisation throughout. The direction from both Clayton himself and his co-director Sam Reitbergen makes interesting use of a minimal space. A quality which adds to the show’s quirky nature and ability to engage audiences through what must read, on paper, as terribly mundane conversations. What drives this show is its characters, who give it its charm and create a sense of setting where there are otherwise few visual cues. Their hilariously varying reactions to events such as “Applegate” and the revelations of “Kristofferson Cluedo” help to progress their individual and shared storylines, and portray excellently the things which are wrong with these sorts of groups. It is difficult to individually praise a certain actor, because the standard of characterisation is brilliant throughout the cast - something which is established clearly and immediately.

You can’t help but experience dual feelings of love and frustration towards Colin (Andrew Cowburn) and Rory (Kieran Laurie), whose friendship was an absolute joy to watch throughout. Clayton’s true abilities as more than just a comic writer shine through in this pair. Particularly in his ability to combine subtlety and blatancy, evident in him slowly establishing the ironic dynamic that the two most passive characters have the most potential power. The antithesis of Colin and Rory to the other, more extroverted characters, helps to ensure that the extreme annoyances of this Kristofferson Residential Committee do not overwhelm the audience’s perception of the place itself, or grate too much on one’s nerves. The duo are completely loveable.

This show is not without its absurdity, a quality which the audience seemed to generally find hilarious, especially with Ted’s (assumedly improvised) speech, which had many of the actors concealing their own laughter. Some of the humour became repetitive and frustrating, slowing the pace, but on the whole it is clear that both the writer and cast are highly talented and able. A group which seemingly has little purpose or bearing outside of the Kristofferson bubble finds its feet as a means of educating the audience, and does it in such a way that it could be possible to leave the show wondering if it was supposed to be making a point, with the nagging feeling that it was.The venue was near enough full, something of a surprise given the relative distance of Serenity Cafe to other, and larger, Fringe venues. It is difficult to comprehend that a show of this quality is free - 'A Year Of Minutes' is a hidden gem of the 2017 season.

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Noah Lachs

at 09:35 on 6th Aug 2017

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'A Year of Minutes' takes British neighbourly niceties, and local administration to a satirical and dark extreme. In its best moments the play has the audience in stitches, though at times it is bafflingly quirky (there’s a minute long drug-fuelled improvised speech/fit). Centred round various meetings of the Kristofferson Park Residences committee, the action follows wannabe-committee-chair, Ted Fulton (Alex Otie) on his Machiavellian ascent to electoral success. This villain—who tries to bribe his way to power with home-baked pies—is helpless without his Lady Macbeth-equivalent, Sandra Hodge (Jazzy Price). The two work to drive a wedge between pro-garden and pro-courtyard neighbours. They start a geopolitical conflict that makes Israel-Palestine look like child’s play. Along the way, fusty and nervy committee treasurer, Bob Bell (Josh Williams), has both his dog and niece murdered. The blasé abruptness with which the fact of the latter death is dumped on the audience instantaneously yanks the play multiple notches up on the black-humour-o-meter. Don't be fooled by the genteel setting, this play is dark.

As the play progresses, so do its political allegories. The committee motions come to include a proposed English language test for new residents with failure resulting in eviction, and Ted Fulton promising to build a fence in the courtyard, which “the garden committee will pay for”. This is a play that doesn't take itself too seriously so the brazen Trump-mockery is comic without sounding haughty. However, if there is one political event that seems to have inspired this play it is Brexit; there is abundant French–bashing. Sandra bemoans the, “pungent wafts of fromage” entering her window courtesy of the new French neighbours, and the cover story for Ted’s act of dogicide is that Bob’s Rottweiler was killed by “frogs” (though, it does feel that the frog plotline is all just a setup for the gleeful punch line that “it’s a frog eat dog world”). Despite the neighbours’ reports of the “La Porte” couple’s antisocial behaviour, we never meet them. This could constitute a very clever comment on the ironically xenophobic nature of some of the most homogenous communities in Britain. The most subtle and incisive allusion to Brexit (it applies to Trump too) is when Colin (Andrew Cowburn) turns to Rory (Kieran Laurie), and says, “maybe I wish I hadn’t voted how I did”, regarding the climactic committee chair election.

Indeed, Andrew Cowburn and Kieran Laurie’s performances are the best things about this play. Their stunted dialogue (it is scripted thus) paradoxically lends itself to excellent chemistry. Their endearingly awkward, phatic conversations before and after the committee meetings grow to shy exchanges of homoerotic affection. These characters find solace in each other amid the scheming and storm-in-a-tea-cup neighbourly drama. Both enjoy Sudoku, and neither craves power in the committee. You will want to take these characters home with you. This show is bound to make you laugh in some way, even if it’s just an awkward chuckle as you process how weird it is. Well-written and well-acted, the free pie is a bonus not a redeeming feature.

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