Staple/face at The Camden Head
The best thing about watching fringe comedy — or theatre, if you're into that, or, you know, deep one-woman plays about 'cycles' — is for the swings and the misses, the jokes that fall flat. This is a bad start to a review.
Let's wind it back a bit. Staple/face are a comedy troupe made up of four fresh-faced students from Sheffield University, who all evidently sat down at some point and asked each other: "What shall we call our gang?" It is assumed they had a tattered piece of A4 paper on the go, with similarly bad names on there. "We need to think of a name that is in no way at all related to the comedy we do. Get as far away as possible from the point and then just push beyond that." Why are they called Staple/face? Why? Why?Why? Why? This hour-long show does not provide the answer.
It does, however, provide some moments of proper Fringe comedy. What does that mean? Uh, well, politely: not many Fringe audiences laugh in the practiced unison that is orchestrated by more road-travelled comedians. They do not laugh on cue. Staple/face's Friends with Benefit Fraud was punctuated by erratic ripples of laughter, staccato bursts of chuckles, an egg-shaped wheel of comedy. When one of the performers — each individual member of the troupe will hereby be referred to as 'a staple' — professed to be Mr Kipling, one guy got it. Towards the end, where they embarked on a marathon thirty-six-jokes-in-five-minutes session, your correspondent was rendered helpless by a joke about murdered boys. An entire row of sixth formers looked bewildered throughout.
Fundamentally, Staple/face are four strong comic performers — there isn't any dead wood on stage. There is, perhaps, some at the sketch genesis stage, but that's something that will get ironed out along the way. And going some way towards that end will be performing in other skits: Sheffield-based students have taken over The Camden Head for the next week or so, meaning some of the staples will be the supporting cast in or the director of various other shows. On the strength of their Friends with Benefit Fraud performances, it is suggested you attend. As for their own show, there's a lot of potential there: they just need to exorcise whatever baffling spirit overcame them when they called themselves 'Staple/face', and apply it to a few of their sketches.
Joel Golby watched Friends with Benefit Fraud at The Camden Head, NW1. You can see it there too until 12 August, tickets£5/£7.50
Underhero at Camden People's Theatre
This was a wildcard pick. A "whatever's on at 2.30pm today, we will see". And we're really glad we did.
Roger is dead. Roger was a good guy, a selfless, helpful individual who just wanted to please. He's a cipher played by all three actors during the piece and represented by the empty lycra catsuit and superhero mask hanging from a line.
Underhero explores Roger's impact on other people. The dynamic between his group of friends shifts as we experience reconstructions of scenes, monologues expressing innermost thoughts, and fourth wall breaking meta sections where the cast have tea, talk to the audience direct and reflect on what they're doing. Along the way this trio use dance, sparse props, a dangling microphone and lots of eggs.
Things move from the general to the personal when Roger morphs into Ollie — an actually absent friend — and real emotions erupt between the protagonists. Thank heavens for the lightness of a sweet and catchy mandolin song which means nobody leaves the room feeling too sad*.
Lindsey Clarke watched the second to last performance of Underhero at Camden People's Theatre on 4 August. Find out more at their Underhero Tumblr and follow on Twitter for news of future productions.
Gallantry at Etcetera Theatre
Gallantry is a one-act opera by Douglas Moore - a compact and amusing soap opera parody complete with sung commercial breaks. This production is funny, beautifully sung and dramatically performed, with a stand out performances from Nurse Lola Markham, Karlene Hayworth and ad break queen, Jane Webster.
It feels like the perfect production for a fringe festival - opera in an unexpected place that can't fail to please, but what a shame it is one night only, and what a shame it's just 35 minutes. If we'd paid the tenner ticket price, we might be a bit miffed. More of this sort of thing though, please.
*We were still teary on the bus.