LAUGH LIKE IT'S 1952: COMEDY JUBILEE PARTY

Tue 5th June 2012

reviews

Karl Dando

at 13:13 on 6th Jun 2012

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There was free cake. Things were off to a good start. Bunting and balloons filled upstairs at the Wheatsheaf, with seating arranged cabaret-style and an evocative (though, as my friend pointed out, slightly anachronistic) soundtrack of early rock ‘n’ roll clear effort had gone into the design and dressing of the night. Racing Minds themselves were all dapperly decked out in suits and bowties and remained in character as quite-posh-50s-gentlemen from the start, mingling with the audience with easy charm. This commitment to such a singular style might have risked becoming grating, but thankfully it was artfully handled in the actual performance: aside from a few games in between the support acts, the whole Jubilee party thing was largely a stylistic backdrop that served to emphasise the considerable talents of the performers. The very different voices of the support acts too meant that there was easily enough variety to keep things interesting.

After a little preliminary patter from Daniel Roberts and Dougie Walker, Rhys Maliphant, the first act of the night, took to the stage. Rhys Maliphant has become a common sight around the various comedy nights in Oxford since he started performing last year, and is always a delight. His activist-poet persona ploughs a unique furrow amidst the identikit self-deprecating laddishness of so many stand-ups, and however bemused audiences initially are they soon warm to his impotent swagger and hilarious turns of phrase. Tonight was not his best performance I’ve seen – the presence of his parents in the audience perhaps threw him off slightly – but he was, as always, very funny. Adam Lebovits – ex-Revue bigwig and evil mastermind behind the ‘Eggs Benedict’ nights – was up next, with more character-based stuff, though of a very different hue. Reading a recovered diary entry of 50s gumshoe detective Ugene Schwartz (sic) to an excellently fitting backdrop of noirish jazz, Lebovits ladled absurdity upon absurdity in a pitch-perfect accent. This was all new material, and so not entirely polished in places, but genre-parody is clearly an area he’s comfortable with, and even where the occasional joke fell somewhat flat the audience always remained on his side. Chris Turner finished off the first half solo with an improvised rap on topics suggested by the audience – bowties and polio amongst them – which had the crowd roaring like very approving lions. Turner often demonstrates this skill in his stand-up sets but it is always entertaining, obviously new every time, and, most importantly and thankfully, funny.

Improvised comedy can be a strange thing to watch – I’ve been in audiences before that seem to applaud things for being impressive rather than funny, as if getting from A to B is enough to make up for an absence of jokes in between – but Racing Minds tonight showed that they are all first and foremost comedians. After a brief interval the four main performers took to the stage with its old-timey microphones and, with a few prompting suggestions from the audience, proceeded to unspool a ripping yarn of mystery and adventure. One detail offered was never actually included in the story, but it was an unwieldy one, and more importantly no one in the audience seemed much to care: after a very Airplane-esque opening aboard a zeppelin, the performers took us through a bustling marketplace, the foothills outside Seville (I don’t know if there are any foothills outside Seville, but that’s the magic of theatre), a graveyard and an ancient South American god’s throne room. All four members possess an instant likeability, with Daniel Roberts in particular hilarious as ‘Lady D—b—‘, and the sound effects and music by co-Imps Dylan Townley and Erin Simmons was evocative and by turns funny in itself. The story too was really quite good, accounting for the inevitable inconsistencies of being made up on the spot, which I suppose is the marker of skilled improvisers: I can easily imagine it being worth, with a bit of rewriting, a run of its own. That they’ll be coming up with a new one every night in Edinburgh is a little bit mind-blowing. But it would be missing the point to consider too much the show itself: an improv performance is about the performers, and all four demonstrate considerable talent, a keen eye for a joke, and the requisite sense of pacing and narrative to hold it all together. Tom Skelton and Dougie Walker also possess mighty, mighty beards. Racing Minds clearly have fun together on stage, and thanks to their serious skill and innate charisma the audience were right there alongside them. I look forward to seeing more of them: these guys are definitely ones to watch.

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Peter Diremio

at 14:55 on 6th Jun 2012

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The attention to detail was the icing on the Union Jack-frosted cake at the jubilee-themed Racing Mind show this Tuesday. The award-winning improv team comprised of ex-Oxford Imps Tim Skelten, Dan Rubers, Cris Trunner, and Duggie Walken, were already affecting the dapper inflection of 50s genteelism before the show began.

The supporting acts: Reece Malophlent, in his trademarked red Guevara shirt and camo jacket, performed a goofy-clever set of "subversive" (it is but it isn’t but it is?) poetry to less laughs than his preposterous similes deserved. Private Mouth Adam Lipovic bumped gums about noir intrigue with hardboiled zingers. And Chris Turner’s improv rap, as always, wowed—how does he do it? What neurons does he have that I don’t?

Collectively, the Racing Minds lived up to their name: the plot decisions, characters, and one-liners were generated with impressive momentum. Their radio-play conceit (holding blank scripts was another nice touch) meant a focus on wordplay, accents, and situational silliness over physical comedy-- certainly playing to their strengths. The keyboardist heavily contributed to the radio-drama atmosphere, though the ineffectual foley attempts, not so much—a larger store of sonic props is required. There weren’t many interrupting “segments” (just one news broadcast) but they would’ve slowed the pace. The ensemble only really lost steam when explaining hypotheticals: backtracking loses its comedic charm fast. When simply plowing ahead, the most guffaw-worthy lines resulted (“I might be a murderer, but I’m no murderer”).

Danny Roppers and Chris Turner were quick to assume varied characters in commendably natural performances; all display an amazing degree of situational awareness, guiding the story along towards even the most ridiculous of narrative goals (the audience-donated title was “The Mystery of the Kidney Mustache”). This is why you see improv: to be astounded by quick wits, and to laugh. Hard.

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