Lion & Unicorn Theatre, London – until 25 July 2017
Guest reviewer: Oliver Wake
Leaf is hard to categorise – part comedy play, part sketch show, part mess. Its publicity tag-line likens it to “the bastard child of Monty Python and the Mighty Boosh”, which proved surprisingly accurate. Like these suggested antecedents, Leaf is weird, chaotic and intermittently very funny.
The story, as far as it has one – which isn’t very – concerns lonely young chemical engineer Mark (Matthew Biddulph) and teaching assistant Jane (Helen Potter, who wrote the script). Scenes advancing towards their meeting and decision to cohabit are interspersed with sketches entirely unrelated to the plot. These sketches are diverse, from spy pastiche to period drama and good old-fashioned mocking of foreigners with national stereotypes and comedy accents. Many of the sketches take as their inspiration a word or idea from a previous scene, but are otherwise unrelated to each other. Puns run through many of the sketches, with the audience at the performance I attended particularly enjoying a sequence of groan-inducing tree-related wordplay.
The young ensemble cast energetically assumes different characters, costumes and genders at the drop of a hat in a series of madcap scene changes. I didn’t count how many scenes or sketches there were, but with some lasting only seconds, a lot is squeezed into the show’s runtime of a little under an hour. It is this creative chaos that gives the occasional impression of a messy production, but perhaps that’s the point.
Needless to say, not all of the jokes hit home, but it would be unreasonable to expect them to, and with a mix of verbal and physical humour (plenty of silly dancing and slapstick fighting) there’s more than enough to keep the audience chuckling. Even so, a little trimming of some of the lesser sketches would serve to tighten the whole and concentrate the laughs.
The play was rapturously received at the Lion and Unicorn but ran for only two performances. It will be interesting to see whether Leaf continues to flourish across a longer run in the more competitive environment of the Edinburgh festival next month.