Funz and Gamez: Flogging a Dead Horze

Fri 4th – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Katherine Knight

at 14:52 on 14th Aug 2017

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I never thought I’d see the PG Tips guy reduced to this level. Yet here he is, face in a Teletubbies sun, surrounded by an elf, a dog, and the man Phil Ellis himself, in a neon orange jacket and about 7ft in platform heels. How did he fall this far, you think, as he smokes a cigarette on screen. This sets the tone for the performance. Phil Ellis’ humour is extremely self-deprecating and makes repeated reference to not being at next years’ Fringe: this is fine, until he says it so often there’s a hint of truth behind the interjections. At the start it seems the idea of kids’ humour is throwing sweets at kids until they’re pacified, but this can only go so far. However, once the show picks up, no one could say the kids aren’t having a good time, and a pie in the face to their parents goes down particularly well. It’s mostly divided into visual humour for the kids and adult jokes: a slightly stark distinction, but for the most part it works well.

However, the show seems to be operating on the assumption that if it goes over the kids’ heads then it’s fine – but some of the jokes are just plain tasteless, starting from the acronym itself. A ‘cuddly koala’ character, characterised as a registered sex offender, is one of the funniest interludes, but it appears a bit crass to make that sort of joke in front of kids and parents, particularly when he appears with a white stain on his t-shirt – it is at their expense, after all, and they’re not the ones in on the joke.

Potentially the best character is Bonzo the Dog, played to great deadpan effect by Will Duggan. Walking on dressed in a Dalmatian onesie with can of Monster in hand, I’m reminded of myself on a weekend. “I’m RADA trained,” he says in a monotone voice, and taps the keyboard with barely concealed hatred. He often takes the brunt of the kids’ attacks (volunteered for this role, of course, by Ellis himself), but he’s a good sport and it is nevertheless amusing to see the kids go all out.

The songs which are included are quite entertaining, although audience participation was a struggle at times. It’s very much a show aimed at two audiences, quite literally: kids and families sitting at the front in hope of sweets, and laughter erupting from the back of the room every time a more adult joke was made. (All I have written when an infertility and Greek literature joke were made within 30 seconds of each other is ‘dear lord’.) It’s a performance which struggles along at times, and yet ultimately it achieves something very rare – a show genuinely entertaining for both kids and adults. A ‘real’ family show, if you will.

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Jessica Lord

at 21:22 on 14th Aug 2017

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The premise: a show designed primarily for children, but with underlying adult humour. Think Shrek and Lord Farquaad’s enormous castle… is he overcompensating for something-type jokes. I really wasn’t sure quite what to expect, and was uncertain of the structure that lay ahead, yet I’m pleased to say - I was very pleasantly surprised.

The structure was simple, using games and challenges to move the piece along worked really well - and the kids absolutely loved it. The tug of war was a highlight, as was the water pistol challenge, very simple concepts but everything becomes naturally funnier when you add some competitive children. Ellis and his team are very aware of this and their selection of tasks was wide ranging, to ensure they would appeal to lots of different children.

The two levels of humour were well intertwined and Ellis’ improvised comedy was sharp. Particularly in picking apart children’s names. For example, ‘Felix’ led to a joke about his famous feline namesake, ‘Murry’ led to a joke about the classic brand of mints, and ‘Bertie’… well - Bertie Bassetts. It was sharp and laughable, and exhibited Ellis’ natural comedic ability.

As well as a sharp wit and great games, the dynamic between the four men was strong, and all characterisation was consistent. For example, the heavily sarcastic, hostile and quite simply unpleasant dog ‘Bonzo’ made his entrance in a dog onesie, on his phone, and swigging from a can of Monster. The part was well cast, and his bitter quips towards the children were entertaining for parents, whilst the children were just simply amused by his grumpiness.

However, I’m really not sure about the addition of a paedophilic Koala, I’m aware that the children wouldn’t get the majority of the jokes and references, but I just think it’s a bit inappropriate, and is simply lazy humour. Just because they don’t get it, it doesn’t mean that it is therefore amusing. I really don’t think it added anything to the performance as a whole at all. Just a tad too sinister for a show rated U.

Similarly, there were a couple of other tasteless comments, a joke about Hillsborough rightly fell flat, as did the clip of the character of ‘The Sun’ (Johnny Vegas) smoking. It was just a little crass, and damaged the family-friendly aim.

That being said, generally this show was a strong piece of theatre and I was impressed. It combines musical theatre, stand up, bizarre challenges, and much more. The use of the space is fantastic, and the team is dynamic and full of energy. I loved the merchandise plug at the end, it was unapologetically overt (and it definitely worked, Felix, Murry and Bertie all left with key rings and t-shirts).

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