Selected for Applecart Arts‘ 2021 Artists’ Residency, Thick ‘n’ Fast come with a great reputation. They were named one of the ‘Best Duos at the Fringe’ by the Scotsman for their 2019 debut show Not Quite, which went on to have a sold out run at London’s Soho Theatre. This year’s comedy, General Secretary, is made in lockdown for streaming, but I suspect this format doesn’t do the show any favours.
The premise is that the UN, in the hope of coming up with some creative solutions to world problems, have decided to experiment by using people who know nothing about politics. This leads to two very ordinary women suddenly finding themselves in charge of the whole world. How hard can it be? Played by Cassie Symes & Georgina Thomas, who also wrote the show, they go overnight from “taking minutes to taking charge”, reading thick books on how politics works, getting up to speed with international issues, and putting up some really big maps in their new office. They use the systems they know to learn about making change, including YouTube videos and social media; but wouldn’t we all?
Both actors are polished and confident in what they do, and their script has some smart ideas. The main characters make accomplished transitions from mundanity to world domination, whilst scattering the production with additional caricatures of newsreaders, influencers and others, adds much needed variety. From the start, though, the show feels as if it is still a work in progress. Even whilst recognising it is clever and witty I’m still left wondering why I’m not laughing out loud? There’s certainly great potential here. Some of their ideas for changing the world are imaginative and quirky: the reciprocal orgasm tax is an entertaining concept, while a WorldVision song contest does have enormous potential for creating world peace.
It may be that this silly two-hander would be more effective live on stage in an intimate venue. Instead, within the distance of the streaming process the atmosphere, it just feels flat to me. It certainly picks up when there is ambient music to lift the absurdity levels, and you can imagine how a responsive live audience along with the additional hamminess demanded by live performance could fill this gap.
Technically it is a mixed offering too. There’s good use of green screen and location shots to vary the scene setting, but then the sound balance seems way off. I ended up with the volume at twice its normal level. There are peculiar editing choices, where scenes are clipped and restrung together, which feeds into the rather absurd narrative, but is not quite deliberate enough to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Indeed the absurdity of the performance could really go up a notch to make it funnier, particularly come the end when the winning song has so much potential for over the top craziness.
Conceptually there’s lots here to like, these are obviously very talented actors. But for me the format leaves the show in no-man’s land; not sharp enough to be polished comedy TV, nor wild enough to capture live Fringe show fun. I’ll be interested to see how it evolves.
Written, directed and edited by: Thick ‘n’ Fast
Created in association with: Applecart Arts
General Secretary is available to stream daily at 8.00pm until 24 April. Booking information via the below link.