A bold new frontier and format for the ever-innovative Comedy Society, showcasing the power of cross-University collaboration with a rollicking evening’s entertainment.
The Comedy Fridge unreservedly delivered, leaving audiences eating out of performers’ palms and scoring highly on the crucial comedy barometer: the length of that distinctive pause between the end of a sketch and the subsequent audience appreciation, short for pretty much the entirety of the show.
Set out as a series of mini-sketch shows under the (somewhat perplexing) title, it featured twenty or so minutes of SUSU’s first ever auditioned comedy troupe (the Southampton Jesters), followed by equivalent slots from The Idle Playthings (Bath Spa) and The Bristol Revunions in an ad-hoc, sequential format more commonly encountered at fringe festivals, but applied to hilarious effect for the first time here.
Although the evening ultimately lacked cohesion as a result, with no crossover between the troupes or their content making things a little stilted (although this constraint was perhaps due to a lack of group rehearsal time beforehand), the overall standard of both material and performance was outstanding, and Southampton, Bath and Bristol alike seemed effortless in prising their due appreciation from the buoyant audience during sketches’ resolutions.
All three troupes showcased a variety of comedic styles ranging from physical to surrealist, from blue to deadpan, and more, in doing so hitting a precise and ingenious balance with their writing between overall accessibility and level appeal to the student niche crowd. This was a feat perhaps best showcased by the Revunions’ stand-out sketch of the night, The Sims in real life, which was greatly received – by the ninety percent or so of the audience who’d clocked what was going on, that is.
To begin with, then, to the Jesters, and the first occasion (in my memory, at least) on which SUSU Comedy Society had auditioned its sketch troupe (who both wrote and performed). Controversial maybe, but a step that proved an unqualified success in raising the bar of consistency from that of previous productions. Not only was material generally written with wittier intent, but also was performed in a punchier and sharper form, my highlight being the sheer inevitability of a ‘literal drinks names’ joke – everyone in the audience knew the sketch would end in a ‘Bloody Mary’, but we couldn’t have known how far it would be taken in pursuit of well-earned laughs.
In this way, the combination of sheer guile and spot-on timing in old-school Comedy performers (Anirrudh Ojha and Robbie Smith excelled in particular) was complemented by the more emphatic, zanily characterised delivery of others with roots in acting-based groups (Joe Buckingham, Will Cook and Andy Sugden demonstrated versatility with hilarious delivery time and time again). Unfortunately, this did sometimes highlight the difference in understanding of some stagecraft principles within the troupe, such as in one particular instance where a lack of projection from one performer was inconsistent with others’ and threw off the rhythm of a classic “rule of three” joke; sadly, the punchline suffered for it.
But such examples were rare and, all in all, the Southampton Jesters were rip-roaringly amusing, covering (amongst other things) a Blackbeard identity crisis, the death of feminism, extremist acronymic confusion, and the magnificently side-splitting exchanges between two stoned radio presenters. In doing so, they truly showcased both their exceptional talent on the Fridge stage and their immeasurable potential for that of the Fringe; I look forward to hearing more from them soon.
Next up were the Idle Playthings, who opened with a familiar construct of a sketch we’ve all written in our heads at one point: the use of song lyrics to form a romantically-themed conversation. Although this perhaps wasn’t the most original concept of the evening, it resoundingly hit its mark thanks to its playful performance and, on occasion, self-mockingly tenuous tone, particularly with a great use of “Hey Jude”, and its later reprise (featuring a genius One Direction reference) was a hilarious way to bookend the segment.
On the whole, the Playthings preferred more gradual build-ups to punch-lines than those of the Jesters’, which unfortunately emphasised the jokes which didn’t land (a sketch based on the appearance of the Devil didn’t really progress much from there) more than the plentiful which did (football chants in everyday situations were fiendishly inventive). There were also occasional line slip-ups which may well have been due to understandable nerves, but the performers should all be commended for their sheer charm, warmth and quality, and did themselves proud, often showing themselves to be very entertaining ones to watch.
Finally, to my favourite troupe of the evening: the Bristol Revunions were nothing short of electrifying from start to finish, and opened with a bang of a sketch in the form of a trope-busting film preview, “American Tourist”, hitting the parodic nail on the head. Consistently launching skits with uproarious one-liners, their set featured many an eminently quotable sketch (“Oh, who will save me from this comfortable peril!”) alongside the cleverest concepts of the night, in particular a bar which served toast (worth it just for one great visual gag) and the aforementioned Sims routine (“I like playing chess alone” and “we have woo-hoo!”) which left the audience gasping for breath.
Mixing acute wordplay, perfect timing and some imaginative, intelligent and shrewd sketch-writing, the concepts and material in the Revunions’ segment were golden, and executed to a befitting standard. Although a couple of amateur performance gripes remain (blackouts between sketches made for quite abrupt transitions, and a couple of performers tended to bounce on their feet on occasion), the troupe showed they have the calibre of performers to make huge waves in the comedy world in the near future, seeing off the Fridge in style and winning many plaudits on Southampton territory in the process.
A boisterous (if choppy) evening, The Comedy Fridge was an absorbing, animated and amusing show which showcased just how much comedic talent exists in the Union – and beyond. Here’s hoping we see plenty more of the Jesters, Playthings and Revunions in the near future as, although lacking a little polish, this brave new collaborative format demonstrated exceptional potential.