As a keeper of a cabinet of curiosities myself I was intrigued to learn what comedic spin The Dead Secrets would put on in The Curiositorium. Spin was the correct word as the show on Friday night at the Old Fire Station was a whirlwind, whistle-stop tour of surreal jokes, references, mimes, accents, dances and sketches.
Unlike many of the sell-out audience I was new to The Curiositorium which unfortunately opened with a somewhat sketchy tableau and admittedly developmental material set in the American South entitled The Ladies Antebellum whose sinister catchphrase was 'mighty fine', although the sketch itself was not. The frantic fan play referenced both Gone with the Wind and Dangerous Liaisons and their finest line was reference to 'fundamentally vengeful rabbits'. Fortunately, after a brief intermission we moved on to the proper show and this was clearly a well-developed, practiced and polished piece having premiered in Oxford and then performed and honed most successfully at Buxton Comedy Festival, Sketchfest and the Edinburgh Fringe.
Immediately we were drawn into the bizarre world of The Curiositorium and The Dead Secrets' surreal sketch show formula, opening with a train journey with allusions to The 39 Steps and Brief Encounter but with a comedic punchline deriding the modern supersaver ticket. And as it turns out a museum of curiosities, hidden beneath a staid Museum of Antiquities with hidden secrets, danger and a mystery to solve is a perfect narrative tract on which to hang the many and multifarious sketches which make up this show.
I particularly enjoyed the central character's risk adversity and doubty gurning in the face of danger. The character Sputtoms skilfully, artfully and hilariously played with references to Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Igor, pantomime Buttons and Shakespearean fools, and was particularly effective when in love. I'd had a particularly bad experience at Homebase on that day so was highly amused when they were derided alongside the saintly Brian Cox and that most British of institutions, the WI. The cast efficiently and effectively moved from character to character and sketch to sketch referencing themes, memes, mime, bygone eras and styles with consummate ease, with barely a moment's hesitation and hardly enough time for the echoes of one to joke to die before the rumours of the next began.
This is to mention but a few of the jests, references, interpretations, characters and themes explored at breakneck speed throughout the show which made me, personally, laugh. I imagine that different sketches, characters and curiosities resonated different funny bones in different people in the audience. To really appreciate the full surreal panoply which is The Curiositorium do see the show for yourselves (the next local performance is on 4th April at the Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon and you can get your Curiositorium loyalty card stamped). Fortunately this show turned out 'mighty fine' and I look forward to the Dead Secrets' new piece Nature – the Authorised Biography which they will be performing at the Museum of Natural History on 22nd October; the setting and ready-made props should add yet another comedic dimension to the Dead Secrets already wide-ranging comedy.