Fringe Comedy Reviews: Sketch Comedy

Norris & Parker, Massive Dad, Lazy Susan, Mid-Brow and Daphne: a sketch comedy report from the Edinburgh Fringe

Feature by Craig Angus | 19 Aug 2015

Paul Whitehouse once said of The Fast Show: “We’re not afraid to put a bit of classic music over the end [of a sketch] and fade it out”. The close of Daphne’s  Edinburgh debut Daphne Do Edinburgh [★★★★☆] shows the trio have an innate understanding that balance in sketch is everything, as they finish on an a capella cockney sing-song that feels remarkably poignant after an hour of immense comic peculiarity.

That equilibrium extends to Phil Wang’s understated style and juxtaposes with the physical intensity of Jason Forbes – who plays a grieving mother and clumsy barista with glorious dramatic range – and the idiosyncratic show-stealer George Fouracres, introduced by the group affectionately as "the token white guy."

The material is a mix of the utterly bizarre (you’ll never think of Postman Pat in the same way again), the snappy and immediate (such as a great putdown of Radio 4’s The Archers) and some recurring gags that are disguised well enough to reward the perseverance. It’s an exhilarating debut that leaves a lasting impression.

“Why do sketch groups have such terrible names?” a friend remarks, as I read my scribbled itinerary from the back of the latest meal-deal receipt. “Apart from Massive Dad, obviously.” Yes, Massive Dad is a spectacularly incongruous name for a young female triumvirate, but that alone does not guarantee all-conquering munificence, so it’s just as well Tessa Coates, Stevie Martin and Liz Smith have the chops to back up their naming skills.

From the brilliant old-school Playstation style opening, they grip the audience in Step Up 2 Massive Dad [★★★★☆], with Smith's deadpan delivery a constant source of entertainment, turning a ubiquitous Sean Connery joke upside down and on several occasions flashing a knowing raised eyebrow at the audience. There’s a lot to love here: a 70s cop pastiche – cliched territory – is delivered with a wry smile, and an exploration of the overly-sexualised marketing of yoghurt (and other tedious foodstuffs) is bang on the money.

It’s disturbing enough to hear 1998 Des’ree single Life in the tiny confines of the Pleasance Courtyard, and that's merely before Mid-Brow’s [★★★☆☆] show begins, so imagine the horror of realising it’s being played on repeat – as you slowly realise you might’ve signed up for an hour of aural torture – 'death by the most lyrically banal record in history, please!'

Of course, it’s all just a set-up, a prelude to the duo examining the thought processes behind the production of a truly abysmal song. It’s the centrepiece of a gleefully mischievous hour of observational sketch comedy from Tom Blackwood and Alex Cooper that contains several moments of excellence – a skit about Jesus Christ’s shoddy business acumen strikes gold, as does another routine about televised divorce.

The show is thematically grounded on what the two repeatedly call the ‘six-stage guide to mediocrity’, though this is disappointing on two levels. Firstly, it feels a bit ham-fisted (and if it’s satire I’m not sure what the target is), and secondly because so much of what Mid-Brow do is well above average, and genuinely has real crossover appeal.

Mid-Brow aren’t the only ones talking themselves down. Norris and Parker declare "Sketch comedy is shit," with Katie Norris berating her partner Sinead Parker for not signing them up to perform "real theatre" at The Traverse. There’s a long tradition of British comedians who’ve used their stage time to tell us about the society we live in, and there’s a clear desire from Norris and Parker to do something meaningful. They give a fearless, heart on sleeve performance, and what their attacks on the Tory government lack in subtlety, they make up for in passion.

The lighter moments are thrilling, with profanity-filled Disney parodies and an excellent homage to John Cooper Clarke generating the biggest laughs. While not the finished article, All Our Friends Are Dead [★★★☆☆] does showcase Norris and Parker’s chemistry and their unshakeable conviction makes for an arresting performance.

The ironic pessimism stops with Lazy Susan: Double Act [★★★★☆] who – symbolically – pull a rabbit from a hat in their first sketch, and then carry on doing so through the duration of ‘Double Act’ without letting up.

It’s a riot of a performance from start to finish; each accent, tap dance routine, and ludicrous scenario is perfectly judged. In particular, a sketch about Geordie micro pigs is otherworldly in its greatness, as if it had been plucked from a Lynchian dream sequence.

Lazy Susan are so on top of their game that they succeed in bringing a ukulele into play without irritating anyone – conversely, they get the biggest laugh of the show. The duo have risen to the standards set by last years’ Extreme Humans and crafted something that elevates them to greater heights.

Daphne Do Edinburgh, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug, 3:15pm, £7-10.50

Lazy Susan: Double Act, Pleasance Dome, until 31 Aug, 8:10pm, £8-10

Mid-Brow, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug (various dates), 4:45pm, £6-9

Norris and Parker: All Our Friends Are Dead, The Caves, until 29 Aug (various dates), 8:35pm, £8-10

Massive Dad 2.0: Step Up 2 Massive Dad, Pleasance Dome, until 31 Aug, £6.50-9.50