Aug 6 2016 | By More

★★★☆☆  Brimming with gems

New Town Theatre (Venue 7): Thurs 4 – Mon 15 August 2016
Review by Linus West

Full of witty genius, but failing to make the most of its content, Dabster Productions’ Jailmates still guarantees an hour of laughs with brutally honest comedy.

The BBC Scotland comedy series turned Fringe show depicts a single mum and a prison inmate attempting to form a relationship via a dating website. Glaswegians from opposite sides of town, the pair agonise over the letters they exchange, each wary of scaring the other off.

Julia Sutherland and Gary Little. Picture credit Dabster Productions

Julia Sutherland and Gary Little. Picture credit: Dabster Productions

Julia Sutherland portrays Jenny, a middle-aged parent just looking for some excitement, having been single for some time following a divorce. Hoping to find something different, she turns to Jailmates.com, yet remains in constant anxiety over keeping up with the rest of society.

Gerry, performed by Gary Little, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for what he calls a “political crime” – stealing books and selling them on eBay. In a building full of murderers and drug-dealers, he too is full of angst over fitting-in with this new environment, despite his rough-tough image on the outside.

Sutherland and Little, who also wrote the script, mercilessly exploit social stereotypes in their characters, extracting every bit of comedic potential they can. Professional comedians, they portray their characters with a perfectionist’s accuracy, creating a clear and absurd contrast between the two personalities as each attempts to always present the best image of themselves to the other.

Yet, free from the time constraints of radio, this doesn’t feel as if it has adapted as well to the stage as it might. The delivery, while believable, is somewhat rushed, with few pauses – giving little time for the audience to recover, ready for the next one-liner.

brutal honesty

In simply moving the opening two episodes of an entire series to the stage, the production also struggles with pacing. The underlying story is set up in the first 5 minutes, and other than developing of a few running gags, doesn’t move for the remainder of the hour.

The same is true on the comic front. The puns start off strong – an unfiltered look into the characters’ minds, which makes for side-splitting comedy of brutal honesty. However, there is no escalation, simply maintaining the same frequency and quality throughout. They are too easy to get used to – and bored.

There is no question of the production’s comic potential given the number of quips. Almost without exception, each sentence is either a build-up or a punch-line – which guarantees success through sheer volume and comedic brute force. Whether they actually land home or not is another matter.

On the radio things need to be spelled out, when, on the stage, a look can say as much as a line of script. The show’s move from one medium to the other leaves comments which, if executed through facial expression, could hold high comedy value – but now sound unbelievable when said out loud.

Jailmates carries impressive comedy potential, with a rich sea of side-splitting content and polished actors, yet it falls short of making a successful journey onto the stage. This would be an example of relentless, side-splitting comedy, if it could just make the most of what it has, and escape the jail cell that is radio…

Running time 1 hour (no interval)
New Town Theatre (Venue 7), 96 George Street, EH2 EDH
Thursday 4 – Monday 15 August 2016. Daily: 5:00pm.
Details and tickets: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/jailmates
Dabster Productions website: dabsterproductions.com


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