Edinburgh Fringe 2011
This is a finely-tuned sketch comedy show that verges on fringe theatre. David Reed inhabits an array of charming, rather irregular characters in truly enjoyable performance.
The set of this show – dominated by a pile of mismatched, fairy-lit dining chairs, evokes an arty fringe theatre look, the first in a steady roll of pleasant surprises in this show, a blend of sketch comedy and fringe theatre comprising a series of solo vignettes and masterful use of sound and lighting. It is the solo debut for David Reed, one-third of the acclaimed Penny Dreadfuls sketch group.
When Reed makes his entrance, he doesn’t just come onstage. He doesn’t introduce himself from behind the curtain and bound eagerly into the lights. He saunters in assuredly, under a dim blue light, slickly dressed in a suit and tie. There is no questioning it: David Reed is cool. He owns the room before the show even starts. But he’s also really likeable, clearly enjoying himself, and throwing so much energy and commitment into his work that it’s near impossible not to be attracted by it.
Billed as a one-man sketch show, this actually is some of the finest character comedy I’ve ever seen. We meet a series of delightfully drawn, gently absurd characters – Steve, an exuberant, primary-school aged viking-enthusiast, a cocky, high-flying young South African who wears his sunnies inside and a doughnut whose destiny it is to fly. An extremely well-directed show, it has a true theatricality: the scene changes are impeccable, and as integral a part of the performance as the monologues, using lighting, sound and that same assured saunter to keep the audience transfixed. The writing in this show is pitch-perfect, and Reed knows how to make people laugh without going down the road of excessive swearing or lewdness. Considering the Pennys’ background in radio, it makes sense that the stories told are made to sparkle by the dynamic manner of their delivery.
The comedy itself is one for those who love silliness, whimsy and fantastic storytelling. The show is constantly surprising, and each new character has depth and vigour, though I would have liked to see a few shorter, snappier scenes. Reed’s voice has a fantastic range and shows nuance to match each character. A few of his jokes are edging on political incorrectness (a joke about female comedians was met with an “oooh” of reprimand from the audience – but still goes down well). There are some great audience interaction moments: he doesn’t hide behind a fourth wall, but is constantly addressing the audience, and there are a few discreet points of breaking character for a brief moment of self-reflexivity. What really gives this well-crafted, compellingly performed show its zing is the finish, with a return of the exotic, well-travelled foreigner who we met first to bookend the monologues, followed by a satisfying finale that is strange, endearing and uproarious, and it takes the absurdity of the show to new heights.