Footlights Presents: Xylophone

Wed 3rd – Sat 6th February 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 01:01 on 4th Feb 2016

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What links an unfortunate baby, Jesus, 'kids' being bullied, William Shakespeare's possibly best but sadly unseen play, and misguided views on marriage equality? Sort of nothing really, but they all turned up, mashed together in the rapid-fire sketch comedy alphabet which is Xylophone. Starting at A, and working all the way through to Z, this show had the audience howling with laughter and bursting into spontaneous applause.

A cast of five actors did a magnificent job of delivering the numerous sketches, leaping between roles and scenarios at breakneck speed. Declan Amphlett was brilliant and unhinged as an existentially challenged game show host confronted with a taciturn, skull-wielding Hamlet as his first guest. Rebecca Cusack revolutionised our understanding of irony, the role of the prime minster and textual interpretations of the Bible. Zak Ghazi-Torbati gave a heartfelt rendition of the terrible conflict which lies deep in the heart of (some) Welshmen, Riss Obolensky fought the patriarchy and did a brilliant turn as storm Frank, and Sam Knights was master of a very sinister game of Simon Says.

The sketches were interspersed with improvised piano interludes from Toby Marlow, who also composed and accompanied the songs of the show, and tinkled away while the audience took their seats. The couple of musical numbers were good fun, particularly the Welsh Pride song, and I would have liked to see more music in the show. The writing itself (by the cast members, along with Ben Walsh) was absurd, playful, occasionally political and always a huge amount of fun. As usual, be prepared for great and simultaneously terrible puns, delightfully tenuous storylines and occasional bouts of fourth-wall-breaking.

There were a few moments on this opening night when the irrepressible mirth of the sketches became too much for even the actors onstage, making them break into smiles. This wasn't however as much of a problem as could perhaps have been expected. Generally, the audience were too busy gripping their own sides to care, the action on stage recovered quickly, and the feeling they produced was more one of a victory won against the rest of the cast than a real muck-up.

Xylophone has so much variety that no matter your tastes, there'll probably be something that floats your boat. And if you're anything like me, you'll laugh all the way through. The opening night audience were numerous enough to fill the theatre, and laughed and applauded at all the right moments. Grab a ticket before they all go.

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Katherine Ladd

at 09:14 on 4th Feb 2016

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It takes quite something to keep the entire audience at a late show in hysterics from beginning to end, but Xylophone's hop through the alphabet left me with aching sides, an immovable grin and new determination to work on my one-liners. Exploding onto the stage in a blaze of dazzling energy, the production took on a fairly ambitious concept: to fit 26 sketches into a little over an hour without slacking in pace or becoming in any way repetitive is no mean feat, but Xylophone remained refreshingly original from A to Z.

The subject matter itself was the perfect blend of contemporary satire, fresh takes on famous figures and unadulterated silliness. We were treated to everything from a parliamentary sitting to a decidedly sinister aerobics class… the diversity of Xylophone’s sketches was matched only by the complete commitment of its actors from beginning to end as they slid seamlessly between sketches with the aid of minimal set and lighting changes..

Zak Ghazi-Torbati, with more than a smidgen of Jack-Whitehall-esque brilliance, delivered in a deep, throaty voice my favourite piece of the 26: a heartfelt attempt to defend Welsh nationalism by unscrupulously ripping apart other cultures. He made the most charming offensive man I ever did see. A decisive nod must also surely go to Toby Marlow, who tied the whole thing together beautifully at the keyboard, effortlessly linking disparate sketches as he slid from ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ to ABBA. The performance also remained charmingly meta throughout, with the cast ready and waiting to play off audience reactions. They almost made it through without corpsing, although a rather marvellous inadvertent mid-line squeak from Sam Knights, which generated complete breakdown amongst the audience, finally elicited from him tell-tale shaking shoulders. This was by no means a bad thing, though: in fact, the tone of the show was that of a best friend who whispers a cracking joke in your ear, letting you revel in laughter together.

Trying to pin down what makes something funny is a little like chasing a rainbow. Xylophone made me laugh when it was unexpected, rejoicing in its own misdirection and quipping, but it remained fantastic even when the audience could anticipate the joke at the beginning of a sketch, thanks to its perfect comic timing and sheer momentum. Some sketches were spot on in their relevance (How to stop being the most unequal country in the EU? Why, leave the EU, of course.) but others derived their brilliance from complete outlandishness. Superbly written and ingeniously performed, watching Xylophone probably constituted the best hour of my term so far. My only suggestion would be the use of the Arabic alphabet next time… it has more letters.

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