Edinburgh Fringe 2010
A new sketch show from this stellar sketch comedy group who brought the Aeneas Faversham series to the stage and radio.
The nom de plume "Penny Dreadfuls", once, more accurately described the kind of comedy that these four, whoops, three performers peddled – Victorian comedy pastiche which achieved five star plaudits at the Underbelly way back in the 19th. or, was it, 20th century? Aeneas Faversham shone, returned and returned again, not only to the stage, but also radio, the BBC no less. They then modernised but kept to the mystery tale, big-baddy confontation format with occasional returns to their sketch comedy roots along the way. Now the boys are getting closer to middle age…wait…shut up…
…this is a five star show. There’s quite simply no one to touch the Dreadfuls, even if their company name does refer to an earlier period in their comedy development (A lot of fans would like a return return of that Faversham cult). There’s also no one to touch them because they now play bigger stages in Edinburgh and they are now only within knicker-throwing distance of their adoring audience. The stadium-sized venues such as the Pleasance which they now play, however, do not stop this hugely talented trio stepping into the skin of a gamut of hilarious characters, brimming with inventiveness, a sense that it is all so very natural and easy, and managing to connect with their audience from the moment they appear on stage…
Their roots are still there, with signature baddies being confronted by flawed and often disturbing heroes, alongside innocently abused collateral characters – the physical gags and wordplay arrive at the speed of light, but somehow we are not left behind, we’re carried along. There’s quark, strangeness and charm in the material and the various ladies played by the studied Thom Tuck.
I want to offer up a few words and phrases that help to justify the five stars given to this show by FringeReview: comic timing, inventiveness, fluency, hilarity, swivel chairs, wit, wigs and finally, some very nice yellow and black interior design on stage.
There is a danger that the oft used confrontation scenes with bad guys will soon wear a bit thin, and some of the first night set pieces overlapped a bit with the boy band semi-invisible microphones contributing to a bit of sound unclarity, but there’s so much inclusive comedy whoosh that it still represents tremendous, premiere league humour.
But what really makes the Dreadfuls stand out are their abilities as comedy actors. The stagecraft is always top drawer – especially funny can be the exits at the end of scenes, and the way they allow the laughter to erupt and sink in, before moving on – they are very audience-conscious, which sets them apart from many of their peers.
There are one off sketches, with a running storyline woven into the hour and it all flies past too quickly. The music is very loud and there’s a danger it could all start to feel a bit too commercial; luckily the Penny Dreadfuls have recognised this and injected enough self-deprecation to keep us all on side.
So, an outstanding new show from a troupe which began life in the 19th century, and have arrived in the twenty-first as one of the finest sketch comedy groups this country has ever produced.