Brighton Fringe 2016
Karl Sparx, the man born in a coal mine, brings his relentlessly foolish brand of comedy back to Brighton in The Big Stiffy, a new show, set at his friend Bob’s funeral.
Ed Summers, blacked-up as a coal miner, gave a supremely confident performance as Mancunian, Karl Sparx, in The Big Stiffy, compering Bob’s funeral party (sponsored by Wickes) with a crazy, romping and infectious energy from start to finish. During the one hour show, he took us on a surreal journey through the absurd, but somehow very plausible, lives of Karl, Bob and Bob’s friends.
Summers worked brilliantly with space, and with the people in it. The show was full of audience participation from the first few minutes. We all became guests at the funeral and were quickly caught up in the spider’s web of Karl and Bob’s off-the-wall world, full of intrigue and twisted conspiracy theories. It only took a few minutes for everyone to be singing Bob’s Funeral hymn, playing pass the parcel, and making cameo appearances as some of Bob’s friends on the stage with Karl. There was something very endearing about Summer’s performance – yes, Karl Sparx was a total madman, but Summers was also reassuringly gentle when he was working with audience participants, and that kept things feeling fun and light.
The staging was as crazily random, and as disconcertingly normal, as the narrative. Bob’s head was revealed in a box on a small table, surrounded by the kind of rubbish you’d find in the back room of a restaurant – a Henry vacuum cleaner, a fly swat, a cornetto, a box of Black Magic, some rice krispies, a tin with no label, some vegetables, a hatchet etc. Everything found a use.
Music and sound played a big role in the production – from the funeral hymn, through Bonnie Tyler, through to rap and beat boxing – adding texture and structure to the show’s off-the-wall frolicking. And the presence of Bob’s friend – the neighbour – on a mobile phone connection from his car (pre-recorded by Summers) gave Summers the chance to really up the ante and introduce snippets of even zanier conversation between two equally insane characters. Set pieces, such as Sparx’s periodic flirtation with an apple crumble loving audience member, also gave the piece a recognisable structure, which brilliantly set off its totally random story line.
All in all, the show was immensely enjoyable, a bizarre experiment that did, surprisingly, pay off. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes absurd, in-your-face comedy with a good lashing of innuendo. Watching Summers in action was like getting onto a rollercoaster; once you were on, and the show had kicked off, there was absolutely nothing else to do except lean back, submit and enjoy the ride.
If you want to get a glimpse of Ed Summers, Karl Sparx and his other alter ego, Seska in action, check out my post-performance interview, recorded as Summers was cleaning up the stage: