Edinburgh Fringe 2016
A variety of well-constructed characters from a village near you (including its idiot) brought to life by the charismatic Dave Lemkin.
Village fetes can be a wonderful source of inspiration for comedy, containing as they inevitably do a range of characters from the stunningly dull to the exotically eccentric. I often look around my own village and wonder why I haven’t taken advantage of all that material and constructed a character comedy sketch show.
But Dave Lemkin’s beaten me to it with his highly amusing, very well scripted and exquisitely delivered piece called The Village Hall. Playing down in the cosy confines of Ciao Roma on South Bridge Street, Lemkin took us on a journey around the Lower Swell Summer Festival (which could be set anywhere in Middle England), introducing us to a range of beautifully constructed and executed characters with whom everyone in the audience identified.
There was the “heavy breather” of a caretaker, someone that any self-respecting female would not fancy being in a room on her own with. Those of you old enough to remember Leonard Rossiter’s character of Rigsby in Rising Damp will know just what I mean. Then there was a very prim and proper vicar, full of innuendo and just a hint of sexual dubiety. He was followed by an excruciatingly dull management consultant having trouble getting anyone to attend his training course the following day and the show concluded with a worryingly believable female yoga teacher (clad in skin-tight lycra) encouraging selected audience members to adopt some very interesting positions.
But the star of the show was undoubtedly the oily Dicky Daventry, one-time Cabinet Minister and everyone’s idea of a crusty old Tory whose political leanings were probably to the right of Genghis Khan. And Dicky came complete with a compliant dog called Mrs Thatcher, a bitch of course.
On the evidence of this show, Dave Lemkin is clearly a man of many faces, with his background as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company providing his characters with real depth and vocal dexterity. Accents ranged from estuary English through to a broad Irish brogue via some part of the Midlands and an extremely posh part of the shires. Costumes were perfectly chosen to match the characters with some complex changes being undertaken on stage as part of the act.
But that’s where this show could do with a bit of tweaking. Using music and voice over breaks during costume changes was the right thing to do but a clunky “search and select” process to cue up each effect using an iPod broke the show’s flow. It would have been much slicker had he used a PC and something like Multiplay to autocue and fade each effect. And perhaps investing in a throat mike might have avoided the continual dipping in and out of the fixed stage mike employed. Finally, his script was well-crafted and witty enough not to need the gratuitous profanity that crept in on quite a few occasions. Yes, it normally gets a laugh, but to me it’s a cheap laugh and the sign of lazy writing.
These relatively minor things apart, this was a well-constructed hour of character sketch comedy and, as it’s part of the Free Fringe, you can pay what you like as you leave – or not.