Anushka Chakravarti and Bea Udale-Smith must be commended for putting together what I hope will be the first of many CAKE Nights at the North Wall. It was exciting to see such a diverse bill, not just in terms of the people performing, but also in the range of styles and disciplines on show. The organisers should be proud to have created a truly positive and welcoming space for new material - something much needed on the University drama scene!
Music by Joshua Cathcart - The Big small Boy
If I see a ukulele on stage my mind immediately jumps to YouTube circa 2009 (charlieissocoollike et al.) and I'm forced to confront what the 13-year-old me thought was good entertainment. Fortunately, when Joshua Cathcart (one half of The Big small Boy) started playing, he didn't stir that fear in me and provided a genuinely sweet and pretty funny set.
I enjoyed his opening song about Vaseline; it showcased his droll yet light-hearted sense of humour and steered clear of being twee. However, any warm feeling that was initially inspired by the second song was removed by the call for audience participation. Maybe it's just my visceral, personal reaction to being asked to do something I really don't want to do, but being asked to join in always automatically makes me feel uncomfortable and I end up not enjoying what I'm watching.
That being said, it's hard to fully get your act across in under 10 minutes, and to Cathcart's credit he made his voice known; this was not musical comedy, rather music with a good sense of humour, and I think after a few more tracks maybe I wouldn't have minded the audience participation so much.
'Star Crossed in Translation'
written by Esme Sanders, directed by Anushka Chakravarti and Bea Udale-Smith, performed by Miranda Collins & Flinn Andreae
In a sketch reminiscent of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag, Miranda Collins & Flinn Andreae play a Spanish student on her year abroad and her (much) older Tinder date - the acting from both was confident and accomplished throughout. The sketch's main revelation was funny, but the piece's real strength was the tone of the observational comedy about gap-yah/year abroad Instagrammable Erasmus woes.
There was a sense that the writing and directing were at odds though - there's a reason the monologues in Peep Show are internal voiceovers - and the constant fourth wall breaking was jarring, making Andreae's role a hard one to fulfil without looking like a bit of a spare part. It also seemed like this was meant to be a longer sketch, as the pacing and transition between narrative points felt rushed and abrupt.
But, this was definitely the start of something good and I hope Sanders is able to iron out the creases and give her comic voice some space to breathe in a longer piece. Perhaps stand up would suit her stories better?
Stand Up by Suzie Murray
The thought of performing stand up comedy terrifies me, so anyone who takes the plunge and gets on stage automatically earns my respect. For someone her age Suzie Murray is an impressively confident and comfortable performer. Her command of the room was strong, but she needs more time to coalesce her snippets of material into something linked by more than a generalised (and slightly faux?) misandry before the individuality she possesses can shine through.
There were occasions where transitions and endings of ideas felt uneasy, especially in a section about harassment in public which ended with Murray parking herself on an unsuspecting audience member's lap (see above: my horror at even the thought of audience participation). This felt to me like a really unnecessary invasion: the point she was making, about the line between flirting and harassment and how tied it is to context and location, was a good one, just poorly made.
Written and directed by Olivia Bradley, performed by Callum Coghlan and Harry Berry
When something is billed as black comedy, it's impossible to tell what kind of dark you're going to get. The overall tone of Wednesday was undeniably bleak, not because the gallows humour present was especially grim or graphic, but because the balance was off. It either needed much more comedy, so the audience felt like they were allowed to be laughing, or it needed much less - so that one or two well placed jokes could achieve a greater level of pathos.
Callum Coghlan and Harry Berry's performances started off as slightly nervous and hesitant, but as the piece came into its own, so did the actors. Once everyone had moved past the contrivance of the gunman character, the piece did a good job of exploring the futility of suicide and highlighting the simultaneous triviality and great weight placed on actions around suicide. For instance, the habit of bringing your wallet out with you when you'll not need it was treated with the same deft touch as the discussion about forgetting to leave a note.
I think this piece just needs a bit of time to figure out how funny it wants to be - it could happily move to either extreme and be equally successful, but at the moment it's caught between two quite different ends of the black comedy spectrum.
Sugar, Eggs, Flour, Jokes
by Finlay Stroud and Joe Peden
Chemistry between comedy partners is arguably as important as the strength of the writing and there's no mistaking that Finlay Stroud and Joe Peden love performing together - perhaps too much considering their onstage giggles.
They presented us with two sketches, a Bandersnatch parody and an Amazon satire, which both had moments of wit and spark, but were accompanied by such heavy lidded winks to the audience with almost every gag that I found myself rolling my eyes as much as I was laughing. As there is with so much sketch comedy, there was a slight smugness to their performance that I couldn't quite put my finger on; maybe it was their enviable confidence, or maybe it was the luxury of performing in front of friends.
I'd be interested to see these two perform to a room of strangers, because if they took and firmed up their genuinely smart ideas and stripped away the lazy 'have your cake and eat it' jokes, I think they could make quite an impact.
written by Alex Rugman, directed by Kate Weir, performed by Luke Wintour and Hannah Taylor.
'You only abuse women because you can' was a pretty scary premise for a (mostly) comedic sketch, though unfortunately a premise that all women are already pretty aware of. We saw odd flashes of brilliance from Alex Rugman's writing - including a particularly funny few lines about being hung/hanged - but there were elements of excess that need to be toned down to allow this sketch to be at its most effective.
I don't know why, but student-written drama always relies too much on swearing. I've been guilty of it myself in the past - maybe it's our own disbelief that we're actually allowed to drop the odd f-bomb that makes us overuse our favourite four letter words? I understood that vulgarity was an important part of this piece, but the volume of swearwords, plus the actors' undisguised glee at getting to say them in front of an audience got quite grating, and pulled the viewer out of what they were watching - I know it's a cliché but in this case, less really is more.
However, Rugman's idea was strong and the twist we were given wasn't the twist I was expecting, a testament to the writing and the actors' commitment to their roles. This was almost very good and I'm interested to see how it evolves.
Music by Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, Olivia Moinuddin and Lewis Hunt Onatra
This act opened with the girls trying to get an amp to work (I've been there, it's a nightmare) while Lewis got some solo Djembe practice in (I've not been there, maybe all tech failures need drum-based accompaniment?) At one point I did start to think that maybe it was a sketch - it was funny in a Stewart Lee 'this has gone on so long that it's now very amusing' kind of way - but they ditched the amp and got on with the music, using the piano's built-in speakers instead.
Having to play a bit quieter than they expected to actually gave the song a lightness of touch that I don't know it would have had otherwise. The harmony between Amewudah-Rivers and Moinuddin (especially on the chorus) was occasionally very beautiful and the four elements (two voices, piano, Djembe) blended well throughout. There was a hint of Lianne La Havas's smooth charm about the tone and lyrics and it was obvious from their onstage glances and chemistry that the three loved playing and singing together - I really hope they continue writing their own music and seeing how they can develop their sound as a trio.