Edinburgh Fringe 2012
You know how some reviews are more about the hang ups of the individual reviewer and their opinions as a frustrated director/actor than a review of the actual show or production? Well, strap yourself in kids, we’re in for – well, we’re actually in for reasonably smooth ride, albeit with a couple of well signposted speed bumps.
Here goes: Darkness Rising is very good. This is actually a criticism, since they should be, and very nearly are, excellent. There’s a hell of a lot of good stuff here, lots of very funny jokes and physical comedy, and – despite the pulls of both plot and style, a refreshing lack of in-jokes and filmic references. When the performances are at full energy (which they are not for the full hour, and we’ll address that in a moment), this team threatens to be one of the best sketch shows around.
It does start out with a fairly major filmic reference, though. You can’t have a strait-laced police inspector turning up in a remote village looking for a missing girl without calling to mind The Wicker Man. It’s true that The League Of Gentlemen (who first started attracting attention round these ere parts) have ploughed similar blood soaked fields, but there’s enough originality here for all the boys to be playing in the same sandpit.
But it’s not quite there. There’s no problem with the story or jokes, which, while not being the most original in the town, are certainly smart and funny enough to exist on their own merits. (Although we will say to this and any other comedy group in town this month: that thing where you represent a flashback or passage of time by waving your arms and going ‘wwwhhhooo’? Yeah, that’s getting old now.) Despite the huge selection of memorable characters – a ass-kicking priest, a lonely vampire, and some great physical comedy, it falls somewhat short of where it clearly be.
In the final analysis it appears to be all about the direction. There’s a startling see-sawing in the energy – whenever the boys hit a moment that’s about exposition and plot, the energy really drops, as does the diction, which veers into incoherence. This is a problem since – you know, that’s the moment where it’s all about exposition and plot. Occasionally lines are thrown away as if the cast are embarrassed by them.
Such minor irritants alert your attention to others – the matching waistcoats the boys wear don’t actually match, one actor (playing different characters) is wearing black nail varnish. Such little things smack of (we’ll say this quickly) unprofessionalism, which is annoying since these boys, on the fringe, should be aiming to the best in show. Such a destination is absolutely within their grasp. You worry that at some point, someone involved in the production uttered the deathly phrase: ‘Oh, nobody will notice ..’
In some ways, the show feels like an improvised ‘Henry’ show, full of genuinely inventive scenes, all set in the same village. If it was, we’d be racing to give it the full five stars, and seeing if there was any way we could tack on a couple more stars on the end. As it’s a scripted, and rehearsed show, we’re scratching our heads as to whether it should be three or four. The irritants that we’ve spoken of really make us want to be mean and strike down to three – but .. it’s no good, the material, inventiveness, and likeability of the boys – and the energy, when they commit – is very winning. So, it’s a four – a very good four, at that. But Lord Summerisle help them if they ever get to thinking that very good is good enough.