Sitcom: A Sitcom

Tue 3rd – Sat 7th March 2015

reviews

Adam Woolf

at 00:36 on 4th Mar 2015

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Sitcom: A sitcom is a very original production with some excellent performances and genuinely hilarious moments. However, at times it seems confused by its own premise, and flicks between a surreal comedy and a serious drama.

The play is about the cast and director of a sitcom (shocker!) filming their pilot episode. As such, all the actors play two characters, playing someone who is playing someone else, and there are effectively two parallel story lines.

As the audience walk in, the cast are milling about the set in their non-sitcom characters, not quite silent, but not quite loud enough to really be playing to the audience. This opening is somewhat odd and doesn’t add anything significant, but leaves the audience unsure whether they should watch or talk amongst themselves. When the action starts proper, the wit of this production becomes immediately more apparent. Brilliant crude one-liners abound and are juxtaposed well with more subtle wordplay and, as is most appropriate, situational comedy. The parody of the sitcom itself was spot on; meta humour can often be cheap and lazy, but here was quite the opposite, with some very well thought out and delivered jokes.

Credit is due to all the cast, who faced the difficult task of playing two different, generally contrasting characters. Patrick Wilson playing Frankie Benny as Dougie, stood out, his energy and comic timing were strong throughout, with his lines being the glue holding the comedy together. Evie Butcher playing Margot Beaufort De’Bever as Alison also gave a good performance, getting probably the biggest laugh of the night with her whipped cream antics. Štefan Benčík, Elliot Wright and Anna Fisher gave variable performances, each with their own excellent moments: Elliot committed fully to his in-sitcom character’s refrain of “JESSICAAAA,” Štefan made a brilliantly mad KGB-style interrogator and Anna really came in to her own when it was time to straddle Patrick. If only they had given this same level of characterization and energy throughout the show, rather than just in these moments where they came to the fore. The whole cast also needed to work on the speed of their dialogue and the overall slickness. There were many times where funny jokes were made unfunny due to slowness of the delivery.

Like any good sitcom, an element of pathos is injected throughout. The relationship between Patrick Wilson’s and Štefan's character is the main source of this, and there are a few lines where the emotion is truly felt. However the ending is quite a serious one, which compared with the somewhat surreal and definitely light-hearted hour preceding it, becomes very strange.

Overall, the play is enjoyable, with an interesting story and more hits than misses in the joke department. An entirely fresher cast/writing team makes an admirable attempt at doing something truly different. Unfortunately, a potentially brilliant show is let down by some slow passages, a strange ending, and some performances not being quite as strong as they could be.

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Sid Janota

at 04:13 on 4th Mar 2015

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Sitcom: a Sitcom is a thought provoking performance with many funny moments. It highlights the blurry line between fantasy and reality, yet gives the audience a chance to laugh at a wide range of comedy styles.

It is a meta performance comparable in style to Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Little to my knowledge, upon entering Pembroke New Cellars I was instantly transported to the set of a terrible sitcom. The first scene was horrendously boring until it was revealed that I was in fact watching a ‘filmed in front of a live audience’ type scene in which the actors were the characters of Sitcom: a Sitcom. Like I said, sitcom-ception.

It was not difficult to keep up with the level of inception; at one point I counted four. We were watching an act, inside a dream, inside a sitcom, inside a play. However, at points, a healthy confusion about which ‘reality’ we were in made the audience feel like an active participant in the play who were discovering things just as the actors themselves found out.

A major plot point was that events that happen outside of the sitcom show end up effecting what goes on within it. If you were an observer in the sitcom, then you would have no idea why people were acting in peculiar ways unless you got the opportunity to yell “CUT!” and observe what’s going on behind the scenes. This is unfortunately not possible in real life but, as the play shows, the confusion is emphasised the more deeply one goes into the acting fractal.

The ability of the cast to change characters, accents, and personas so quickly was especially impressive in Evie Butcher’s characters: Alison – an attractive, dumb, hillbilly stereotype; and Margot – a well spoken, RADA trained actress who just happens to be having a dry spell in her acting career. These characters show how different people’s image can be to their reality, but if these are too different, one ends up compromising the other, as happened to Margot in an unfortunate encounter with Dimitri’s trouser snake.

Stefan Bencik’s character, Dimitri, added a welcome slapstick element to scenes which, along with well choreographed clumsiness provided an impetus to keep things happening.

Keeping the staging the same for all scenes was an interesting move but it served to highlight how the mood can drastically alter a setting without physically moving anything. However, I would have liked to see a little more use of the staging to distinguish between the sitcom and the ‘reality’.

The final scene sums up the themes and messages of the play explicitly – do we value predictability, certainty and security more than our ability to think and create for ourselves, even if the prospect of that scares us? In my opinion this added to the overall effect of making the audience ask questions, but some members of the audience disagreed, saying it didn’t fit into the general style of the play, and that it patronised the audience by reiterating what had already been said.

Overall, Sitcom: a Sitcom was an enjoyable performance from which I came away with the message “[art] is always better when you give the people what they think they want. Or is it?”

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