Elephant and Castle has developed out of crime and punishment and poverty across the last decade. Its arts scene has not undergone this same regeneration. I was at the Museum of Cinema for Sketchfest, the three-day London sketch comedy festival, which, true to its mission statement was ‘fast-paced, full of character and imagination with twists at every turn’.
Elephant and Castle has developed out of crime and punishment and poverty across the last decade. Its arts scene has not undergone this same regeneration. I was at the Museum of Cinema for Sketchfest, the three-day London sketch comedy festival, which, true to its mission statement was ‘fast-paced, full of character and imagination with twists at every turn’. The twist of the Saturday New & Unsigned Competition, was however, that nearly all of its participant characters were stale, hackneyed and formulaic. Religion, the posh, the poor, the North – these dull tropes of comedic mediocrity appeared and reappeared and appeared again, like the sad drip of water torture, without the perk of cool refreshment. And, with a cash-only bar and no ATM for half a mile, the audience, many of whom had paid £25 for a day pass, were the real butt of the joke.
The Dead Secrets opened the show. Unfortunately, its cast members remained alive for the full 20 minute set. They dragged us through pieces about military expenditure, and army time travel; an Officer uses a Powerpoint pie chart to confess that he has spent the budget on Space Geese. It is a playful idea, but the pace was slow and sprawling. Finally, finally, the ghoulish image of a Space Goose was projected onto the screen. It was too late. The script has potential to be funny, but in an industry where timing is the difference between stardom and starving, this group needs to work on it. Apart from one Shakespearean moment in a fictional cafe, where the orders – Merchant of Venison, Midsummer Nights Cream, Titus Adronicous cous – briefly saved the group from an audience-led Taming of the Show, it was a laboured comedy of errors, with curious ideas ruined by poor execution.
The third act, the eponymous Legion of Doom, were fast overshadowed by the second, Bosh and Babbs, a feminist duo who performed original riffs on popular culture. They opened as Mormon wives in the same polygamous marriage. The tension between passive aggressive sexual competition and the All-American Bible Belt was delicately crude and brilliantly funny. From here, they leapt into the television auditions for ‘Take it or Leave it’, a fictionalised Take Me Out. It was intelligent comedy. Through this framing, its authors were able to comment on the line between crass and endearing in reality TV culture, and populate the stage with the mad, the bad and the captivating. They end in a car, generic ‘Eastern European peasants’ having an argument. For much of the scene its accented dialogue was impossible to discern. Yet, as with all truly good comedy, it didn’t matter. It was fucking hilarious. The following day, this two man team won the Runner’s Up Prize of the whole competition. It was well deserved.
Bosh & Babbs with director Joel Babbington (middle)
The show ended with Man with Porpoise. A man in a suit strokes an oil painting howling ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?’ Perhaps I am too humourless to get it, or perhaps a lot of sketch comedians are still stuck in an adolescent rut and it’s time for the genre to grow up a bit. I’d take notes from Bosh and Babbs on where to start.