Sheeps have got a show at Wembley in front of 90,000-odd next week. But by their own admission, their act is still a bit creaky. So tonight a lucky few (around 50) get to see them finesse their material at the garage-cum-theatre that is The Invisible Dot. There's a snag though: the trio can't get past their first sketch involving two aquarium cleaners and a psychopathic jellyfish — the tone is wrong and the punchline just doesn't sit right. Which means for the next hour, Sheeps (Daran "Jonno" Johnson, Alastair Roberts and Liam Williams) are going to run through the same skit again and again until they get it spot on. Really. That's what they're going to do.
These three upstarts are — according to a Guardian article yesterday — at the vanguard of a new breed of sketch show — one that sidesteps skit-flitting, and instead toys endlessly with a single sketch, doing it every which way. Throughout the 60 minutes we're promised a bunch of other material (Penny and Penny Go For Penne, Upside-down Mum, Baby Fireman), but for a solid hour all we ever get is a deluge of variations on the aquarium sketch. And while that may sound like a steaming pile of pretentiousness, Sheeps: Wembley Previews is some of the most inspired sketch comedy we've seen in a while.
Why does it work? With their disparate identities, each of the trio envisages the skit working differently. So while turtle-necked twat Roberts wants to inject it with a bit of class (he suggests they do mime, or 'French clown' as he prefers to call it), Williams writes in a load of twists (the aquarium is in space. Space is actually a nightclub in Ibiza. Ibiza is the name of a spaceship that's actually in space... it goes on). And when things get heated, pyjama-wearing Jonno has to do a soppy solo take on the sketch to remind them that they're all good friends and shouldn't fight so much. Awww.
The narrative of the three tussling to get the show right (with Williams mollycoddling Jonno, and Roberts hell-bent on introducing his Sexist Colonel character) is what really makes us care, and these 20 or so takes on one sketch are more than the sum of their parts. This is really a mini-play with excruciatingly funny cock-ups, bad dialogue, and a nervous breakdown — courtesy of three ultimately lovable fools.
Presumably Sheeps can't go on doing single sketch comedy ad infinitum (or maybe they can). Chances are their next show will be something else, just as impressively and hilariously new. But whatever they have up their sleeve, let's hope Sheeps don't make Wembley just yet. They're far too cool for Wembley.
Sheeps: Wembley Previews is on at The Invisible Dot until 4 October. Tickets £10/8.50. They're not actually playing Wembley (that's, like, part of the joke), so best to catch them here. Londonist saw Sheeps on a complimentary ticket.