Simply the Jest

Mon 15th – Thu 25th August 2011

reviews

Kate Abnett

at 11:54 on 20th Aug 2011

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A brand spanking new comedy troupe from Exeter University, Simply The Jest are funnier and more imaginative than their lame name might suggest.

The Banshee Labrinth is a venue rather off the beaten track, showing free fringe only. The pub’s posters boast that it contains “the true spirit of the Fringe”. A big part of this ‘spirit’ is the fun of wandering into a venue you don’t know, to see a show you’ve never heard of on the off-chance it’s something good, so I decided to do a bit of market research. I asked a man in the queue wearing a badge saying “Sooooo Bad” (five O’s. I was counting, he caught me looking, unlikely friendship ensued.) if he knew anything about the show. He didn’t, and neither did the guy behind. Alarm bells started ringing – student comedy is created and performed in a very cushioned environment. Any audience outside of this circle is much less forgiving, and material that has local student venues howling can leave an audience from outside university stony-faced. I was therefore surprised to witness one of the most receptive audiences I have seen at the Fringe.

Possibly to do with the venue being a pub, and the show starting at 10.15pm. Possibly to do with the acting talent of the group. There was no weak link in this chain of students’ abilities, and every cast member appeared completely at ease on stage. The consistently great delivery of songs, a myriad of regional accents and characters was impressive enough to make the overall show better than the writing alone. The cast was engaged wholeheartedly, and without their hyperactive levels of enthusiasm, some scenes and characters could have really flopped (‘Wales’ answer to Lady Sovereign’, consider yourself accused).

It’s not ground-breaking stuff, and if you’ve seen sketch shows before, you’re likely to be familiar with many of the settings– AA meetings, classrooms etc. Some scenes contained little comic writing (one scene’s only punch line was that the Destiny’s Child medley being sung was done with Yorkshire accents), but the five or six great sketches that opened the show seemed to have earned Simply The Jest some allies in their audience, and these troughs in comedy value didn’t kill the mood for better scenes that followed.

What the writing lacks in wit, it makes up for in silliness, yet somehow this never fails to work - a scene in a French classroom saw pupils pointing at the crotch of class member, chanting “Le Poisson!”. However, there was some more conventional comic writing that could have held its own in professional sketch shows – in particular the ‘inappropriate iPod app’ scenes, wherein a pregnancy test app had girls weeing on their phones and a Jesus app turned water to wine.

A suitably studenty jumble of styles, Simply The Jest is a good show carried by a great cast. Their confidence and enthusiasm put the audience completely at ease, in a way that experienced performers often cannot, leaving the unlikely bunch who had meandered their way into the venue pleasantly surprised and satisfied customers. As this was their first show, Simply The Jest are one to keep an eye on over the next few years, when the fantastic performers they have will hopefully be matched by improved writing.

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Tanjil Rashid

at 11:55 on 20th Aug 2011

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It’s well-known that comedy is a fairly hit-and-miss game. For no brand of comedy is this truer than the student sketch show, from whose ranks have hailed such comedy classics as Monty Python, Lee & Herring and, of course, the Cambridge Footlights, but also the appalling likes of Little Britain, Cowards, and, of course, the Cambridge Footlights. Simply the Jest, Exeter University’s comedy cream, unfortunately tends towards the latter.

Unless, of course, you find appeals to the lowest common denominator to be enjoyable comic forays. It’s perfectly possible to see the funny side to mulling the possibility of a film called Edward Penis-hands, naming schoolchildren Va-jay-jay and Titty, or having nipples in unexpected places, like behind the earlobes or on the back. But an hour long regression to genital humour is tiresome, unoriginal and cheap. I am no puritan killjoy, still less am I claiming I did not laugh (the pregnancy iphone app, for example, where women pee on their phones to find out if they’re pregnant, was a brutally pointed satire), and it is my duty to point out the audience consistently expressed their approbation through hearty bouts of laughter (though it is also my duty to point out that, plied with enough alcohol, an audience will laugh at anything). Every comedy writer knows that shorn of inspiration one’s only recourse is to the pull-back-and-reveal, which works every time but is to be used sparingly. For example, a drama teacher brings a visitor to school. He mimes canine carnal congress with him, before the visitor refers to the teacher as his dad. Ho ho ho. The fact that every other gag ran along these lines suggests the writers were not merely shorn of inspiration but irrevocably expunged of it for all eternity, much like several castrated penises mentioned in the show.

But I am glad to get the gripes out the way so I can get on to what I’m much happier saying. The writing was as bad as the acting was good. All of the performers betrayed a remarkable gift for comic acting. The perfect timing was not merely proof of the performers’ palpable comic chemistry but also the fact that the show must have been impeccably well-rehearsed. Rosie Abraham deserves special mention for her versatility with comic personae, as does Jack Stanley for his stage presence. With some good writing Simply the Jest might have been the best sketch show in town.

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