Intelligent comedy at the Etcetera
Mike Shephard’s Ten in a Bed Theatre are past winners of a Fringe Report Award (“Best Encouragers of New Talent”). Now, as the Expeditionary Force, this is their first full-length (it runs for an hour) sketch show.
The First Supper is distinctive in two ways. First of all, the three performers (they also wrote the script) know the value of pauses. It takes a lot of nerve to hold them, but the comic tension ratchets up quite considerably because they do. The second is that this is intelligent comedy. Almost every one of the sketches benefits from a real leap of the imagination that takes us into a new realm – not quite real, but not quite separate from reality either.
It has to be said too, that there aren’t many comedy sketch shows which would include a Byzantine Emperor, Lord Anubis (the jackal-headed Eygptian god of the afterlife), ‘Roger Hargreaves’ (he of ‘Mr Men’ fame) and his (most definitely imaginary) publisher, as well as a man who has remodelled an electric invalid scooter to resemble a giant fist. (Something we never see, but which is all the more powerful because it exists in our imaginations).
I suppose even with that cast list, it could have been a let down, but this intense and measured set of sketches – an hour which is almost too rich in ideas – is given life by an excellent script and a set of performers who are prepared to work hard without letting too much of the effort show. Mike Shephard and his bag of peas hardly has to do anything. He looks half-clown already with that mop of curly hair, moustache and braces. But he also has the knack of being able to create and sustain characters who, because of their frustrations, are on the ragged edge of sanity. He is ably supported by his co-writers and performers Jack Baldwin and Luke Sunderland.
Always, there seems to be a rich vein of imagination lurking behind the situations that are set up. I defy you not to laugh when one of the characters, shopping in a supermarket, says that endive and radishes are not mutually exclusive. There’s hardly anything to it, and these lines are a long way from the central theme of the sketch, but little highlights like this abound throughout.
The only criticism I could make of The First Supper – and it’s a small one – is that the experience is possibly just a little too intense. An audience that wants to pick up on all the subtlety here needs to concentrate hard; almost as hard as the three excellent performers who have created a show strewn with highlights.
Reviewed 16 August 2011
© Michael Spring 2011