Great British Mysteries @ Pleasance Courtyard

Witchcraft and stagecraft meet in Great British Mysteries' sophomore hour

Review by Ben Venables | 20 Aug 2018
  • Great British Mysteries @ Pleasance Courtyard

Great British Mysteries voyage us back to Tudor times. Will Close plays Teddy – a seafaring dipstick who idolises Sir Walter Raleigh. Meanwhile, Rose Robinson is Olive – a country lass with an affinity for pigs "in season" who the locals call "kooky". Finding each other in London this pair of misfits team up to solve mysteries and are soon on a literal witch hunt.

In period costume Close and Robinson initially seem like the kind of booming thespians you'd give a swerve to on the Royal Mile. Yet a lot of the success of this show comes from their chemistry. And those costumes, along with the soundtrack and use of a background projector screen, all combine to give the show a sense of production values. These are still the delightfully lo-fi values of a Fringe comedy show, but there is a sense everything here has been thriftily and well chosen.

1599? naturally invites comparisons with Blackadder II and more than in just the ruffs. There's a touch of Tim McInnerny's dimwitted Percy about Close's performance, while Robinson channels more of Blackadder's street smarts through Olive.

The underlying story is pleasingly silly, the mystery doesn't care for suspense and the characters are built around stock traits that offer plenty of opportunities for humour. Overall, the interplay between 90s references – from both the sixteenth and twentieth centuries – also adds to the world Close and Robinson create. It's all very carefree: like a sketch show that's gone long form.

However, when gags are a little laboured it takes you out of this world and you start to question some of the nonsense rather than celebrate it. During these times it can seem like a workshop exercise in placing character x in situation y with the hope of 'cue hilarious consequences'. That said, when the jokes do land the consequences are indeed hilarious. The Tudor setting seems surreal when it all works and adds layers to the comedy. Their performances also mark their potential out too. Close's occasional appearances as a Bishop is a fooling highlight and Robinson can heighten a comedic moment with the smallest expression.

Great British Mysteries: 1599?, Pleasance Courtyard (Below), until 27th Aug, 4:45pm, £8.50-11

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