A Joke

Aug 21 2018 | By More

★★★★☆   Funny, peculiar

The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20): Thurs 2 – Sun 26 Aug 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a masterclass in comic nous to be had in A Joke, Universal Arts and Scene Change Productions’ reworking of last year’s Fringe hit by Dan Freeman.

The big draws are still television science fiction stars Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who) and Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), but local interest is enhanced this time round – Tony Cownie directs at the Assembly Rooms Ballroom, the music is by John Kielty, and the third cast member is now the estimable John Bett.

A Joke Assembly Rooms EdFringe 2018 Sylvester McCoy, Robert Picardo and John Bett. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

Sylvester McCoy, Robert Picardo and John Bett. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

This means that the ‘Scotsman’ in the ‘there was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman’ set-up is played by Picardo, the only non-Scot of the three. But this is entirely fitting in this whimsical, absurdist musing on the nature of comedy and of existence itself, as three confused figures find themselves in the middle of somewhere. Are they archetypes? Characters in a joke? Or something else?

Last year this was a funny and thought-provoking play. This is still true, but some rewriting has tightened it up, while Cownie’s assured comic direction brings out the best in the participants. McCoy’s worrying away at eternal questions is both funny and endearing, while Picardo’s naif is simultaneously cool and ridiculous. Bett’s splenetic Englishman is a beautifully broad characterisation, drawing on immense reserves of stagecraft to stay on just the right side of pantomime.

Kielty’s music and Neil Murray’s design are atmospheric, and the more traditional staging enhances the experience significantly.

While the jokes and performances are just as funny second time around, the play does seem slighter, the occasional reliance on stereotypes less excusable, and the debts to Beckett even more noticeable. Nevertheless, this is exceptionally enjoyable.

Running time 55 minutes (no interval)
The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20), 54 George St, EH2 2LR
Thursday 2 – Sunday 26 August 2018
Daily (not Wed 8, Tue 14, Tue 21) at 4.25 pm.
Book tickets on the Fringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/joke
Dan Freeman website: www.danfreeman.co.uk


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