The Canon: A Literary Sketchshow

Tue 14th – Sun 19th January 2014

reviews

Megan Dalton

at 09:40 on 15th Jan 2014

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The Canon is a show full of wit, charm and originality, and makes for a very enjoyable evening’s viewing. This literary sketch show strikes the balance just right between achieving extensive literary reference whilst retaining a mass appeal, and certainly doesn’t require a degree in English to be found hilarious.

The production did, however, get off to a somewhat rocky start, with technical difficulties meaning that the actors had to stay in their slightly bizarre pre-state for several minutes too long after the lights had gone down. Whilst they dealt with this well, with Ben Hawkins’ whisltling and awkward physicality generating some laughs from the audience, the slow start had a slight knock-on effect on the first few sketches. It wasn’t until a few more minutes in when we watched Charles Dickens trying to keep up to date with today’s market - by releasing a celebrity cook book - that the show really picked up momentum. The audience were in stitches as the novelist explained his fears that the world wasn’t ready for ‘fifty shades of bleak’, but that he felt the need to keep up with the likes of Orwell’s best-selling new culinary masterpiece: ‘all animals are delicious, but some are more delicious than others’. This sketch presented a turning point, after which the audience barely stopped laughing for the rest of the evening.

Many of the sketches kept to this successful formula of putting literary figures in modern day contexts: we saw little red riding hoodie, Shakespeare plays commented on like sports matches and Homer being asked questions by a television audience, amongst others. This is not to say that the material was not varied, for the production was bursting with originality and creativity. Some real flair was shown in the writing of some hilarious breakings of the fourth wall: trying to be ‘meta’ without coming across as pretentious in a sketch show on literature is no mean feat. The talented cast were able to bring out the vibrancy of the writing, and, despite the somewhat unprofessionally long scene changes, they kept the energy levels soaring.

Particular mention should go to Justin Blanchard, whose performance was so strong that by the end of the night the audience were pre-emptively giggling as he appeared on stage. His repeated appearance as a deranged supervisor received some of the loudest laughs of the night (although the scene perhaps a little too familiar to some of the English students in the room). Lily Lindon also deserves special recognition for her dynamic range of performances, whilst Catriona Stirling also shone thanks to her assured and captivating presence on stage.

The Canon is not a highly polished production, but if anything this only adds to its charm. The evident talent of the performers and writers alike is admirable, and was put to fantastic use in this energetic and consistently brilliant sketch show.

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Olivia Fletcher

at 11:20 on 15th Jan 2014

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After much uncertainty as to whether the faulty beginning was intentional or not, the sketch show began rather weakly. Lily Lindon, who later revealed her true brilliance, is sticking various post-it notes all over herself. It is a bit confusing. I'm wondering what she is doing, but not too much.The people on stage look a bit puzzled, the people in the audience feel a bit puzzled too and this goes on for about what feels like three, long minutes. Unfortunately, some of the jokes, as with this one, prove to be more effort than the eventual laugh is worth. Doubtless though, I think it's safe to say that after a false start 'The Canon...' went from strength to strength.

'The Canon...' captures a curious sense of awkwardness and clumsiness which later on morphs in to fully executed hilarity. As the tension eased out, jokes started to get funnier, and then ridiculous and eventually as it became more comfortable, witty. Sketches which seemed to lack in comical substance were compensated for with brilliance in visual direction and presentation. Timing and direction is treated with precision and in many ways, the show thrived as a kind of visual spectacle. Energetic but not always fast paced the show became more engaging as the night progressed.

Repetition and the recurrence of jokes as well as the development of early ideas seemed to aspire towards a certain type of stylised, eclectic performance. I don't think this always worked and in fact started to become a bit uncomfortable as certain gags were recycled long after their last laugh had been spent. The engine of the show, though, was the originality of the ideas. Simple, fun, evocative ideas such as Jane Austen effing and blinding at her writing desk really worked. The other more elaborate sketches lacked the same impact.

If truth be told, 'The Canon...' failed to induce uncontrollable, painful laughter. However, it certainly brightened up my day and took the edge off being a very serious English student who takes themselves very seriously indeed. The final sketch was brilliant and laughter came naturally through a stream of affinity for the English student amongst us and as a release for the pent up anger and frustration of everyone else.

Transitions between scenes were not always smooth and often things felt a bit interrupted. It wasn't quite dark enough, so there was movement, flustering, panic. Admittedly, it wasn't a wholly comfortable performance. But, eventually, awkwardness became a unifying characteristic of the show. With an interesting element of meta-theatre the sketches reassured us not to take things too literally. You see, the puns are contagious.

'The Canon: A Literary Sketch Show' is probably best enjoyed by the English student and certainly needed time to build momentum before it flourished into a truly enjoyable and refreshing comedy but proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable piece of light comedy.

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