+3 Review: Mixed Doubles: Fundraiser (Just the Tonic @ The Caves: until 28th Aug: 17.25: 1hr)

“A really enjoyable show, I’d thoroughly recommend it”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Having seen Mixed Doubles trying out new material in London a couple of years ago, it’s pleasing to see them back in Edinburgh after a year off to present a new full length show. Fundraiser is set up as a village fete where four assorted characters from the village are trying to raise funds to replace the old pavilion, and this is their show. Yet while the framing of this piece is charming and shows intelligence and professionalism beyond a let’s-just-perform-some-sketches approach, at times it also works against them a little, as the changing in and out of these characters between different sketches does get a little confusing.

For me, Mixed Doubles’ trademark is all about the delivery. Timing is everything (they know how to work and audience and let a joke settle before moving on), while facial expressions from all four performers throughout are priceless. In this performance there were a couple of times when jokes fell a little flat, or weren’t quite delivered with the knock-out punch of confidence that they really needed, but given then fast pace and slickness of the show these are quickly forgotten, and the overarching impression is one of playfulness and enjoyment.

My favourite sketches include a parent who takes their child to see a doctor as they suffer from “the g-word” which has a hilarious twist, while the one where a young man introduces his friends to his bizarre flatmate is absurdly funny. Overall there’s a great blend of topical humour, creativeness and recurring characters to make it a really well thought-out and balanced show.

As well as being a traditional sketch show though, fundraiser incorporates a couple of improvised or more random elements. In one sketch two of the performers are challenged to instantly embody objects one might discover when showing someone around a house, and one audience member is pulled on stage to join a stag party… These touches add a nice variety to the piece and show that the group have more depth than simply being able to spout pre-learned lines.

On entering the venue, we’re also asked to come up with a new name for the village bowls club, writing suggestions on slips of paper which get added to the “hat”. While at least one of these is picked to be read aloud, it’s a shame more isn’t done with this device – perhaps a live debate between two or more of the suggestions that the characters debate on the spot would have really tested the group’s mettle.

Overall though, a really enjoyable show and I’d thoroughly recommend it.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 17 August)


Sophie Pelham: Country Files (Pleasance Courtyard, 7 – 30 Aug : 16.45 : 1hr)

“Likeable, effusive, hilarious”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Upon entering the Pleasance Cellar (sorry, Dorset) the audience is offered a tot of sherry and a sausage roll to get into the mood. For me, in this, my third back-to-back show, this seemed like a dream come true. And indeed the dream continued for the first 10 minutes or so when Pelham, as village lady-of-leisure Vanessa Bluwer hilariously tells us about life in Kilmington, her noble employers, and the various courses she runs on a voluntary basis (everything from breast-feeding to bereavement counselling). As this character Pelham is likeable, effusive and strikes a good balance between prepared material and audience interaction.

Alas, after this the show falters somewhat, with a series of less well developed characters, too much audience interaction and little drive to keep the performance moving. Pelham’s Lord Ponsanby, a drunken country gent utters my funniest line of the show “I’m not homosexual, just bloody posh”, but falls flat after a few minutes and it’s a bit of a relief when she goes off to change again. Two of her characters are animals (a badger and a fox respectively, the less said about those the better), but posh school girl Primrose and yummy mummy Sulky Waterboat are both enjoyable, making fun of relevant stereotypes.

While some parts of the audience interaction in this show were great – getting various members to hold a hobby horse, read a letter and answer the odd question – I felt that on the whole there was an over reliance on this, and as the show went on there was a definite sense of awkwardness in the room, particularly among those in the front row who seemed to get “picked on” multiple times.

And just as the level of audience interaction was pushing it, sometimes her jokes also strayed over the line into being somewhat cringeworthy, the worst offender of these definitely being the one about the Muslims… hushed silence all round. Some gags were spot on tone-wise though: safer topics included politics and class, both suitably ridiculed, while even references to underage sex got a few chuckles.

Overall, I think this show has the bones of something that could be really special, but would be better if it focused on fewer individual characters, and having a clearer sense of narrative between them, to keep the show flowing from one scene to the next. A good effort.

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Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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Aunty Donna (Gilded Balloon, 5 – 31 Aug : 22.00 : 1hr)

“An all guns blazing comedy rampage”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The first thing that hits you about Australian comedy troupe Aunty Donna is undoubtedly their energy. This is a one hour, all guns blazing comedy rampage, with never a dull moment. Between the three of them, they caper around as an array of characters, delivering one of the slickest sketch shows I’ve ever seen. Each section melts into the next seamlessly, and it’s a testament to the performers’ dedication that it flows so naturally.

I particularly enjoyed the lip-synching to various songs, that had clearly been very well rehearsed and were delivered with aplomb. During an early mime sequence to a very loud track, one audience member gets pointed at whenever the word “no” is sung – at one stage, several times in quick succession – and the build up and dramatic focus in this section had the audience in stitches.

Throughout there’s a great balance between longer, more developed sequences and a few one liners, including a simple section of reading out “texts from your parents”. My favourite sketch featured someone who “completely misread the situation”, leaning in for a kiss when it totally wasn’t appropriate. With no dialogue, just a scene title and some great physicality, they delivered a simple and very funny moment.

For an Australian group performing the the UK, there were a number of risks taken in making fun of some wonderfully British stereotypes. From our penchant for queuing, to chip butties and even reference to Tottenham Hotspur playing cricket, they strike a great balance between topical humour, without crossing the line into offensive territory. This is a show that is well thought-out and has been perfectly targeted to this market.

In the final third of the performance the group start to reference their own jokes from earlier on, and thankfully, as they had been well-written and delivered, it showed an added layer of intelligence and thought. At no point was it gratuitous though, every moment was carefully selected and well weaved in, and helped tie the piece together into a cohesive performance.

However, for me this show was at times a bit too loud and too full on, and I would have preferred more contrast and subtlety in some of the sketches. In saying that, Aunty Donna’s style is very much their style, and on the whole it delivers laughs aplenty. If you want a loud, high energy, fast paced and at times just a bit weird sketch show, this one is definitely for you.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 20 August)

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