Edinburgh Fringe 2011
The four Three Englishmen (Ben Cottam, Nick Hall, Jack Hartnell and Tom Hensby) give a forcibly odd, highly original montage of sketches providing much laughter, disorder and more than a few fantastically comic songs.
The Englishmen open their show with a hilarious pipe-smoking, wool-wearing, tooth-grinding skit reminiscing the dial-up modem, teletext and the Nokio 3210-ee-oh. What follows is a mind-bending variety of sketches ranging from the secret vengeful lives of much-loved pieces of old furniture to a long suffering car salesman who tries and fails to disband his brother’s one-man worship of his dead wife’s shrine.
Much of the show’s comedy derives from the skill of the actors themselves; the Bond-style “Blind Baker” sketch is hilarious because the childish simplicity of the concept is offset by the massively over-done Bassey-esque performance by Cottam. Equally, Halls’s performance in the Master Chef sketch is excellent, somehow managing to evoke a 1950s TV presenter’s creepy smarm for no obvious reason other than highly comical effect.
Having said that, some of the acts do lack polish and technique (though this is oftentimes what makes it comical). For example, a physical slow-mo piece representing a game of swing ball at a company barbecue could also be technically fantastic as opposed to just comically extrovert and a bit physically indisciplined; the idea is excellent.
Another example of a fantastic and highly original idea is the never-ending “classics” of fading pop stars Paul McCartney and Robbie Williams enforced upon an unwilling listener, too polite to ask them to leave.
The boys finish the show with another musical skit on how they met. It is a charming and clever ending. I think that The Three Englishmen’s charm is certainly an added factor to their show’s success; Hartnell’s twinkly-eyed piano performances add talent and charisma to the whole in an entirely un-intimidating way. On leaving the show you feel as though you have got in on the private jokes of the funny guys at school and I certainly saw more than a few batted eyelids and manly pats-on-the back when the audience filed out of the auditorium.