Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Is there such a thing as a gaydar for Doctor Who fans? When one person can instinctively and without fear of embarrassment, recognise and latch onto another Doctor Who fan? While some might argue (with some justification) that the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and that the best gaydar for Who fans is, well, gaydar, perhaps we should invoke the name of the Doc’s time-travelling machine – the TARDIS – and call it tar-dar, which if nothing else has the pleasing sound of a cheerful announcement.
The reason for this line of questioning is simply that within a very limited amount of words in the Fringe brochure, Mr Hoult manages to cram at least three reasonably obscure Doctor Who references. So, if you’re particularly geeky, you might be expecting this Inferno to be less Dante, more Pertwee. As it happens, there are no perceptible Whoivan references in the hour, although there are such touches of darkness and misery, it seems like Hoult has spent some time handcuffed to ex League Of Gentlemen member and Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss – possibly that’s the reason there’s a large structure in the middle of the stage that looks oddly like The Wicker Man as designed by Ikea – and there’s certainly a sense of some odd and disturbing places in which to find humour for this show.
But, for this hour, Colin Hoult thinks outside the spaceship, displaying a great gift for storytelling and characterisation, something surprisingly absent from a great deal of sketch comedy.
There are some very dark places here, which may well split audiences, but achieves one of this critic’s personal little pleasures: sketch comedy without jokes. Now, while you might argue that such a thing isn’t really in short supply at any given Fringe, this is very clever comedy that can be genuinely upsetting at the same time as making you laugh. Chief amongst these are a character who can’t stop gently swaying to music (after a while, you begin to wonder if anyone else can hear it) while being viciously, obstinately positive about a life that’s falling apart around him, and a Strongbow drenched God (who may not be a God at all) with a fine mane of hair, and even finer rules for living life, that embolden the entire audience in a cheering finale.
There are some clever jokes and characters here, although the show may have benefited from a quicker turnaround of sketches, and less reappeareances from already established characters (although that does lead to a very funny sequence where a dog playing fetch is able to turn the tables – and stick – on his master). All in all, then, an accomplished and smart hour.