A JOKE – #EdFringe ★★★★

In Comedy, Edinburgh Festival, Festivals, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

★★★★
theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh (Venue 39) – until 26 August 2017
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson

Combining wordplay, humour and philosophical musings, A Joke at the Space on Niddry Street is a beautifully presented piece of theatre.

While it will probably draw most attention for the presence of Doctor Who’s Sylvester McCoy and Robert Picardo from Star Trek: Voyager, it has a great deal going for it besides them. I say, I say, I say… have you heard the one about the three stereotypes – sorry, archetypes – who walk into a room? Dan Freeman’s absurdist comedy features existentialist musings on the significance of life and death, filtered through old (some, very old) variety routines.

So far, so sub-Godot. But even if this never really escapes from the shadow of Beckett, it has some interesting things to say, and a large number of funny lines. Some of these hit the mark, some deliberately confound expectations, and a couple fall awkwardly in between.

The good bits are worth waiting for, however. For example, you probably don’t think you want to hear another variation on the ‘interrupting cow’ gag, but you want to hear this one. Where it really scores is in the performances. Any suspicion of stunt casting flies out of the window immediately. Picardo’s wide-eyed naif is an excellent comedy performance, and while his Scottish accent could best be termed ‘interesting’, luckily he does not have to use it too much.

As befits someone who got his break – and his stage name – from the immortal Ken Campbell, McCoy is an endlessly puckish and mercurial stage presence, worrying away at eternal questions in the same magnetic manner that characterised his hugely underrated tenure as the seventh Doctor.

While there are a couple of nods to the best-known roles of the duo, Freeman could have been forgiven for making this more explicit. The big surprise is Richard Oliver, the third cast member. In all honesty, few will have gone to the play to see him, but his command both of the comedy and the more philosophical moments is every bit as good as the other two.

The exploration of stereotypes is not always successful, but is never less than interesting, and there is at least one extremely barbed comment about the motivation of comedians that is almost thrown away but has genuine impact. Freeman’s direction is an object lesson in how to present a comedy in the round, and the minimalist staging works effectively.

All of this, plus a shoe shuffle evoking Flanagan and Allen. Whether you want a thought-provoking hour or some laughs, this is for you.

Running time 55 minutes (no interval)
theSpace on Niddry Street (Venue 9), Niddry Street, EH1 1TH
Monday 14 – Saturday 26 August 2017
Daily at 1.55 pm
Book tickets on the Fringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/joke
Company website: https://www.danfreeman.co.uk
Facebook: @ajokeplay
Twitter: @ajokeplay

ENDS

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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.
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Thom Dibdin on FacebookThom Dibdin on RssThom Dibdin on Twitter
Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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