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Full Stage Splash: A Comic Look at the Comic Book, Etcetera Theatre

Written & Directed by Michael Eckett
Presented by The Sigil Club

Pros: Comic book history is actually really interesting! With some laugh-out-loud comedic insights, this timeline of the life of the comic book is an enjoyable laugh and a learning experience.

Cons: While the history of the comic book is condensed, written and presented reasonably well, it is literally delivered at the speed of light and is a lot to absorb in an hour.

Our Verdict: A clever idea and impressive script but you’ll probably get more out of it if you know a thing or two about comics.

Courtesy of The Sigil Club

Full Stage Splash is the short title of this one-hour (or sixty-four-ish minute by our estimation) history lesson of the up-to-the-minute life span of the comic book. And that is exactly what you get: in one hour (sixty-four-ish minutes), four actors playing sixty-four roles between them, give it all they’ve got in breaking down what is essentially a biography of the comic book, explaining how they came about and the influences and instigators of their evolution.

The action alternates between narrative explanations and sketches that dramatise or comment on any given historical moment. Highlights include a Punch and Judy style puppet show demonstrating the reasons comics were censored in the 1950s; a re-enactment (or so I imagine) of the comic book artist rebellion in the 1990s that led to the foundation of Image Comics and the beginning of creator owned comics; a scene that can only be likened to a game of Pictionary, explaining the fictional comic book world (that I still can’t keep straight – who knew the back story of little doodles could be so intricate!); and an extraordinary piece of spoken word revealing the inner workings of Batman (Dan Farley) that really should have received its own round of applause.

The action/history lesson was given a solid portrayal by an animated group of four (who I imagine have read a comic book or two in their lifetime!) each dressed in a different coloured shirt (like their own wee team of action heroes, here to save the world from comic book confusion and ignorance) with Velcro patches for superman effect costume changes (put a star on my chest, I’m a super hero; put a flag on my chest, I’m a French shop owner!). This was actually a pretty cleaver gimmick given the context.

While the feat of coherently representing the history of an entire art form in an hour on stage and consistently making the audience laugh (on purpose) can’t be denied, the one element of Full Stage Splash that I might take to task is this notion that you don’t need to know a thing about comic books to enjoy the show. Now, everything I know about comics rests on the shoulders of Archie & Jughead (conveniently left out of the story, I might add!), and I did find the show informative and entertaining. However, there was so much to cram into an hour that the action, particularly the narrative parts which were some of the most interesting, was delivered pretty quickly and I sometimes found myself losing track of what was happening between the narrative delivery of the history and the sketches, occasionally blurred by slightly sloppy transitions. Someone with a better knowledge of their comic books than I however, might find the through-line of the production a lot easier to follow.

This is not to say I wouldn’t recommend Full Stage Splash: A Comic Look at the Comic Book to non-comic book lovers. Clever and entertaining is really the best way to describe this extremely thoroughly researched piece that I would say truly embodies the spirit of the Fringe!

PS – for those of you who are comic book challenged like myself, there’s a great diagram on their website that can help you bone up on your superhero history before you go!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

Full Stage Splash: A Comic Look at the Comic Book runs at the Etcetera Theatre until 18th August 2012.
Box Office: 08444 77 1000 or book online at http://camdenfringe.com/details.php?acts_id=58

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