Pros: Every bit the ‘tsunami of silliness’ promised on the flyer, and more.
Cons: ‘Live DVD’ premise not totally convincing.
On paper, I knew I would like this show. How could I not? Soho Theatre hardly ever programmes anything I don’t like, and the comedy trio Beasts hardly ever get lower than a 4 star review, from anyone. But still, not being a regular comedy show-goer, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Would I get it? Would the gags all be in-jokes? I shouldn’t have worried: from the moment of the trio make their first grand entrance (of many) in a motley collection of cardigans and pants, dancing to a silly pop song, I was hooked.
Soho Theatre’s Upstairs isn’t the easiest space in the world: the ceiling is low, and it’s too shallow for much to happen front-to-back. But it worked a treat here, because a lot of the physical comedy and character-building depended on the three standing side by side, or pacing back and forth in front of the audience. The costumes (or lack of them) also do a lot to establish characters. Ciaran Dowd’s various states of undress – a naked baker, a body-suited fish/penguin, and more – enhanced his character’s clownish charm. Owen Roberts – all cardigans, cords and neat beard – was an equally hilarious ‘head boy’ character, while a bespectacled and short-trouser wearing James McNicholas used his overgrown schoolboy look to create some mischief of his own.
The premise is that the trio are making a DVD of their show to convince a famous US producer to hire them. But of course, everything goes wrong, despite Roberts’ best efforts to keep everything on track. More than once he demands that they all start again from the ‘beginning’. With each repeat, sketches become funnier and more anarchic. And that’s not even mentioning the increasing amount of baked goods that end up flying through the air once the premise is forgotten (quite quickly).
For such a chaotic show, I was impressed by how organised Beasts were about their props, which kept reappearing and enriching all the gags each time around. A pot of yoghurt in one sketch becomes something a lot grosser in the next iteration of the ‘same’ sketch (which also involved a giant leaf-blowing stick wielded by a Randy Preacher character). The same fate awaits a glass of wine in a restaurant scene, and a plastic falcon which McNicholas’ character believes is some kind of superhero. The Les Miserables obsessed Dowd, continually foiled in his attempt to wave the Red Flags, finally gets his payoff in the grand finale – a glorious mashup of Les Mis, Moby Dick, and the 90’s children’s film Free Willy. At the end, there were baked goods and bits of whale costume everywhere.
Effective and (weirdly) slick Beasts new show might be: sophisticated, it ain’t. 90% of the people in the room were in non-stop fits of laugher; but like me, I imagine they would freely admit that the trio’s stock of silly one-liners are often funnier than the sketches (did you know you’ll never find a Falcon in Greggs?). They’d also admit that the DVD premise is the barest of excuses for the ensuing mayhem. Perhaps they’d even observe that some rather lovely writing gets lost in the shadow of flying bread. But despite the chaos, it was pretty obvious that the audience were in the good, capable hands of a group who know exactly what they’re doing: making people laugh.
Roll on the next Beasts show – I’ll be there with all my friends.
Written by: Beasts
Directed by: Tom Parry
Booking Until: 30th Jan 2016
Booking Link: http://sohotheatre.com/whats-on/beasts-live-dvd/