Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Obviously talented, powerful performers in too-often predictable sketch-mania.
I have seldom heard audiences make the noises like Wittank’s did tonight. Deep, honking, gales of laughter erupt from the crowd as Naz Osmanoglu, Keiran Boyd and Mark Cooper-Jones perform their mostly unrelated high energy sketches. Their relentlessness can be wearing at times and I certainly felt worn out after their performance in the Caves (which will never win the prize for best ventilated venue at the fringe), but mostly as a result from laughing solidly for most of the hour. Even though not all of Wittank’s material is equally strong, their sheer force and sometimes inspired shifts in tone and focus will win everyone round. Their audience certainly loves them and forgives any less-than-inspired material.
Wittank formed in 2005, where they started performing at Durham University. Naz Osmanoglu, the loudest of the three, is currently performing a well-advertised debut solo stand-up show at Udderbelly. The other members of the group -Mark Cooper-Jones and Keiran Boyd- are sharing a double bill and are each directing other fringe comedy acts.
It’s been said before, but Naz Osmanoglu is a great comedy performer. The energy Osmanoglu brings to his performance is unprecedented. I had to dab some stray saliva from my face on occasion (I wasn’t even sitting in the front row). The laughs often come in before the punchlines, in anticipation -or sheer terror- of the next attack. When he plays a more restrained character, he shows himself to be adept at characterisation as well, made dangerous with that same, slightly eerie determination.
Keiran Boyd often plays the low status foil for Osmanoglu’s high-status, bellowing psychopaths. Boyd’s (very) slight androgynous look means he is mocked for being ‘a girl’ throughout the show. His frequent (intentional?) corpsing gives the show an even looser feel, amplifying the ridiculousness of the situation.
Mark Cooper-Jones’s main device of characterisation are his expressive eyes, often introducing an extra element of bathos into sketches that would otherwise be flatter and less engaging. His performance of the socially awkward horse introduces a gentleness into a show that is held together by hard shifts in tone, quick montage and shouting.
Wittank are highly competent performers, but their material isn’t always of the same standard. Their sketches are sometimes inspired, such as their off-the-wall take on food allergies; or sweet, in particular Osmanoglu’s old man and Cooper-Jones’s horse. But just as often, sketches lose narrative drive and are sustained on power of performance alone. Or, if you’re more cynical, on a man gurning and bellowing loudly into a cave. The show didn’t seem to to be as tight as intended. Some sketches petered out near the end, especially the short monologues. Others had resolves you could see coming for miles, but the audience more than forgives them. Some returning characters outstay their welcome, especially when the joke isn’t developed to a satisfactory extent, getting more laughs from the highly enthusiastic crowd than perhaps they should.
Eventually, I too was battered into submission and did laugh a lot at the intelligent stupidity and occasional genuinely original ideas. The shambolic nature of the show emphasizes the sense of fun Osmanoglu, Cooper-Jones and Boyd are aiming for. There is no defence against Wittank’s furious assault on the funny bone. Although this show is not perfect, I do recommend you go and see this show.