Failure and How to Achieve It

Tue 25th – Sat 29th October 2011

reviews

Rory Platt

at 00:04 on 26th Oct 2011

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'Failure and How to Achieve It' begins with Max Fletcher blithely wandering on stage in his pants. The rest of this hour long production continues in much the same casually flippant spirit, and much of it, like the sight of a man wandering on stage in his pants, is funny - but passably so.

The show's aesthetic could best be described as 'cultivated slap-dash'. Fletcher and Davies perform entirely (save a handful of brief costume cameos) in dressing gowns. Each plays a bewildering variety of roles, sometimes within a single sketch, and transitions often occur unannounced. Scenes revolve around such diverse elements as Mr. Kipling cakes, the works of Shakespeare, Jenga, Ringo Starr, left-wing middle-class indignation, Sean Connery and Grape-nuts cereal. Many feature recurring characters, and the eventual emergence of a loose narrative that unites them is one of the shows most satisfying aspects. Yet you'll spend a large part of the perfomance simply trying to understand what's going on, and in the show's early moments laughter comes as a relief from confusion rather than the result of good material.

Fletcher and Davies are both fine, dedicated performers. Fletcher struggles with his delivery at times, seemingly unkeen to look the audience in the eye, and Davies' acting style is nothing if not broad, but both cope with the abrupt shifts in character and scene admirably; it is a testament to their strengths as performers that the audience is not completely lost from the get-go. Building up an affection toward them is easy, and helps the show through its ropier moments and bolsters its better ones. Similarly the technical team managed to uphold the chaotic structure largely without a hitch.

The show survives mostly on a sense of its own irreverancy, and on the audience's endearance toward the performers, but you'll struggle to remember the majority of it the moment you leave the theatre. A handful of sketches stand out (the Sean Connery one is a belter, and the show's conclusion had me grinning ear-to-ear) but you get the impression little would bear up to scrutiny if viewed outside the context of Fletcher and Davies' 'nonchalant-chic'. The show is by no means a failure, but might have been better served with the title 'Insignificance, and How Not to Structure It'.

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Ryan Sarsfield

at 10:55 on 26th Oct 2011

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Oxford Revue duo Max Fletcher and Nick Davis’s new show ‘Failure and How to Achieve It’ is bizarre. For the first twenty minutes the audience is left bewildered as the pair jump around the stage starting one sketch and then jumping into another. One minute they’re playing a video on a projector, the next minute they’re performing a sketch which seems to be nothing more than an excuse for Max Fletcher to stuff his face with as many cakes as possible. To say that it is scrappy would be an understatement, although the spectacle of on stage eating is actually pretty funny. The pair try to confound the audience with as much ridiculous slapstick as possible; it kind of works.

‘Ambiguities with Sean Connery’ is a particularly funny sketch and is the only one which stands alone as complete. That is not to say that the duo replace sketch comedy with one big narrative show, but rather that few of the individual scenes feel finished – they’re either too short, or lack a punch line at all. The general impression is of two mates dicking about; however, it is this affability which is the source of much of the audience reaction.

The confusion of the first half is resolved somewhat in the second half as various recurring characters start to develop their identities – Melvin the cloning hillbilly, and the pirate chasing Alan, his hostage, start to make (a little) more sense. It is clearly intentional that the show feels slapdash, that links are tenuous or merely glossed over by running across to the other end of the stage, and the fact that both perform the whole thing in personalised bath robes further illustrates the slightly absurd aesthetic they are trying to achieve.

However, this contrived sloppiness can detract from the dialogue and I was sometimes just left bemused. The interspersing of whimsical chicanery with what seem like attempts at satire could have given the show more muscle. However, any potential depth was lost in all the other hyperactivity. There was definitely something intended in the hillbillies’ decision to move to predominantly white comfortable Tunbridge Wells of Middle England, but it was left unclear what. Likewise there was definitely something interesting trying to be said in the recurring sketch of the Tory MP who unwittingly makes a racist gaff and has to attempt to recover his reputation; but again, whilst the odd line was hilarious, the writing and performance needed refining to push the comedy beyond mere farce and stop it from all seeming a bit pointless. The focus of the satire, if any focus was meant at all, was unclear.

The intentional collapse of a skit on ‘the state of comedy today’ shows that Fletcher and Davis are trying to push a style of comedy which is funny because it is stupid and ridiculous. But trying to make things look like they’re falling apart still requires precision of delivery and it is this precision that the two lacked. If you want to see two guys act like idiots on stage for an hour then you will probably be entertained by ‘Failure and How to Achieve It’. They do have some very funny elements in the show, but as it stands it feels unfinished.

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