Little Dark

Oxford University students present twisted comedy sketches.

February 23, 2011
Everyone's used to black comedy these days, whether it be via Black Books, Little Britain, League of Gents, Peep Show, The Office or Nighty Night. The British have always loved to laugh at the misfortune of others, but now it's positively the mode du jour. Consequently, anything new needs to pretty much punch you in the face and feature live Granny incest or cat-strangling to make any impact. The last 'darkly comic' student show I saw was The Oxford Revue (also in the BT) in Feb 2010, which set the bar high. So, how do Little Dark compare? Well, whilst there are knob jokes, iridescent underpants, attempted hanging, kicked bits and creatures and spaff a-plenty, Little Dark somehow don't quite succeed in hitting the same heights. One suspects that these chaps might really just be a Little Too Nice. The surrealism is (if this is possible) a little too surreal, the political satire is obscure, the acting is a bit wooden, there aren't enough exciting costumes, the pianist is nervous...and all in all, there just aren't enough laughs. ON THE OTHER HAND: there are gems in here. I shan't spoil(er) them all, but 'L C Richard' features some ace character acting by the chap playing L C, the recurrent waiting room scenario's got some cracking punchlines and there is some jolly and clever Derek and Clive word/taboo-play (that I appeared to be the only person to find amusing. Is it my age?!). Also, leeway should always be given to anyone on their first night, when nerves are inevitable and the cast haven't yet relaxed into their stride. All the same, I think these boys could do with 'sexing' the show up a bit - perhaps by adopting some kind of stage 'uniform', perhaps by spending some more cash on props (though you have to admire the effort that must have gone into those bonkers/amazing shadow puppets). I'd certainly be interested to see how their next show turns out.

October 19, 2010
A Little Darker, 19 - 23 Oct 2010, Burton Taylor Studio
Described on the theatre program as "the most transgressive comedy to ever appear outside of a UKIP election manifesto", the new production from the student comedy group Little Dark sets out to confound the senses and mess with the mind. It starts promisingly; the audience are greeted to a pre-show monologue involving four drunken, distinctly dishevelled drinkers arguing over a card game. This is followed by a poncho-clad, cowboy hat wearing stranger politely asking the audience to give a round of applause to Little Dark. So far, so good.
 
After a great start, the first sketch proves to be something of a disappointment; a weak performance concerning two care-free doctors that raises barely a titter throughout the audience. It picks up a bit after this, intermittently, but the whole affair is, sadly, best described as "hit and miss". It's frustrating, as all of the cast members are talented performers, but sadly they tend to rely on excessive shouting and half hearted shock tactics to carry the production along, as if trying to mask a lack of depth within the writing. Some of the sketches seem unremittingly crass; one particular sketch, which involves a baby getting its head stamped on, is just plain juvenile. The uneven tone of the show is reflected in the general reaction of the audience; most of the sketches are met with polite chuckles and moderate claps rather than the belly laughs which they are so obviously seeking. That's not to say it's all bad of course! There is at least one genuinely toe-tapping musical number, and in amongst the toilet talk there is some genuinely insightful, cerebral writing. It's just a real shame they so frequently aim for the lowest common denominator when they could so blatantly be doing something of a far higher calibre.
 
Phill Brown and Chris Turner deserve a special mention. As well as performing and co-writing, they also respectively produced and directed the show to an admittedly high standard. There is an impressive musical score throughout, courtesy of Tom Hodge, and some impressive technical work from Mark Brown. Jenni Mackenzie, the only female member of cast, also shows great promise as an actress. A Little Darker is definitely worth a look, particularly if you are a fan of surreal British comedy shows such as Monty Python's Flying Circus and The League Of Gentlemen, but it is also a highly flawed production, with a lot of the sketches coming across as meandering, vulgar and inconsequential. I think, given time, Little Dark will mutate into the head spinning, window rattling comedy beast they so dearly want to be. They just need to be given time to mature. This is far from over. Watch this space.

May 4, 2010
A Little Dark, 4-8 May 2010, Burton Taylor Studio
WARNING: This show contains lycra!

This evening of sketches from Oxford-based comedy troop Little Dark began well, neatly setting the tone before the audience was seated. Upon entering the auditorium we were greeted by a comic slideshow accompanied by discordant tunes from an amused-looking keyboardist. These pictures, though often very inventive, witty and intentionally rude, were more likely to provoke a grin or a gentle chuckle, than an all-out guffaw – much like the sketches and stand up that would follow.

With no set theme, Little Dark’s strengths lie in their ability to inject a bizarre originality into sketches concerning such mundane topics as recycling and office work. But with a name like theirs it should come as no surprise that their sketches regularly touch on adult themes. As the evening progressed it became increasingly evident that this group are as keen to unsettle as they are to entertain; although with the darkest sketches focusing on bodily fluids and unsightly ailments you could argue this is actually just intellectually justified toilet humour. But then, there’s nothing wrong with toilet humour, and Little Dark demonstrated their collective intellect more successfully through longer, more dialogue-heavy sketches using intriguing concepts such as ‘narrative tourettes’ and a revolutionary clinical trial for depression involving a hammer and several mice (the latter providing one of the biggest laughs of the night).

Despite a few shaky line deliveries in the first couple of scenes, the entire cast gave lively, well timed, comic performances - though special mention has to go to Andrew Stilborn, whose deadpan delivery knocked every line to the back of the net. A different type of mention goes to Chris Turner, an impish young man who performed the most unsettling scene of the night by dancing around a stage while dressed in skin tight black Lycra and a thong, and dry humping a wooden chair.

In summary, although you should bear in mind that like all sketch shows nowadays, their output follows the hit and miss rule quite closely, if you’re at a loose end and you fancy having a chuckle, I would recommend Little Dark.
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