November saw the arrival of the annual Fresher’s show from the often (rightly) beloved and praised Southampton Comedy Society. Following their ecstatically praised and well-received fresher’s show last year (the nicely titled ‘Laugh, Cry, Drink, Repeat’), expectations were high for this year’s show, expectations that were sadly, for the most part, undelivered.
The show’s unfortunate flaws were most readily apparent in terms of writing and direction. Despite the presence of many short and smart sketches (such as witty ones featuring Fibonacci, ‘mudbloods’ in Harry Potter and a particularly sublime sketch about birdwatching), several of the sketches were both long and felt aimless, which only highlighted their feeling of being undercooked or incomplete. Several sketches that had particularly funny central premises or concepts often spiralled out of control, leading to a few infuriating instances of sketches ending with multiple characters hurtling into each other in a messy sprawl onstage, often to the strains of the Benny Hill Theme, ‘Yakety-Sax’. While there were several nice directorial ideas (the clever use of staging in the penultimate sketch was particularly inspired), direction felt dropped in other areas, as many of the performers wandered haphazardly across the stage, unfortunately giving the feeling of a dress run rather than a performance.
While there were a fair few good ideas in a lot of the sketches, many felt low on scripted laughs or dialogue, and were often heavily supported (and saved)by performances. These, on the whole, were exceptional; there were a selection of performers (often with experience in both ComedySoc and in theatrical Performing Arts in general at the university) who regularly pulled off fantastic acting performances that were often funny yet believable, such as Anand Sankar, Paige Williams, Eva Wallis, Tom Hunt, Robbie Smith and in particular Jordan Gardner (who was often hysterical and showed a terrifyingly brilliant commitment to everything he did) and Sean Gilbody (who regularly turned in performances of genuinely affecting emotion and pathos even in the most ludicrous premises), among others.
The show’s two improvisational comedy sections (a subsect of comedy the society is becoming increasingly well-known and praised for) were standout successes; with the new improvisers often holding their own against the society’s regular and frequent performers and often generating many laughs. Although their choice to perform more literal depictions of the audience’s ideas was noticeable and perhaps unwise when matched against the more surreal turns from the experienced performers, as seen when they pursued many of the audience’s often odd and purposefully uncomfortable suggestions to the letter despite efforts of the more experienced improvisers to spin them into new, often left-field territory. Nevertheless, there were signs of real talent for the future here.
The two final performances of the show were two of the biggest standouts; the first, the aforementioned penultimate sketch around Thomas the Tank Engine, was wonderfully written and exceptionally well performed, although it suffered from some aimlessness in the middle due to some extraneous writing. Alternatively, the final sketch (a sharply written musical number featuring the show’s namesake) started very well indeed with some powerful and brave performances. However, it quickly became awkwardly messy, as successive performers mumbled and garbled many of the sketch’s hilarious lyrics and shuffled and bumped into each other, unfortunately undercutting the strength of the piece. Nevertheless, the sketch was clearly very well-written, but could have done with further direction and rehearsal (although this may have been difficult given the show’s short rehearsal time).
Special praise in the show must be awarded to David Young and StageSoc for their inventive lighting work, and in particular second year ComedySoc member Jordan Andrews, whose sardonic, deadpan wit and quick improvisational skills proved him to be both an excellent host and MC and a capably natural actor in several sketches. Additionally, the freshers themselves should prove to be leading lights in the society’s future, especially Ben Hughes and Louise Easter. However, despite glimmers of smart ideas, funny lines and several committed performances from experienced members (which often supported and saved sketches that were low on actual jokes or scripted humour), the feeling of the show being a large clutch of ‘filler’ sketches of mixed quality (with some inconsistent direction) was difficult to shake.