The Awkward Silence radio read-through (& guests)

Fri 24th February 2012

reviews

John Lees

at 09:20 on 25th Feb 2012

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Obviously I should at this juncture declare any vested interests I have in reviewing this show for OTR, as Liam Shaw’s email saga made abundantly clear in his somewhat unorthodox set halfway through, so for the record: I was not involved in the production process in any way.

The night kicked off well with an interesting attempt to perform a pilot half-hour radio programme in front of a live audience, written and performed by ‘The Awkward Silence’ with the assistance of Adam Lebovits, Max Fletcher, and sporadic accompaniment from Liam Shaw on keyboard. Ralph Jones and Vyvyan Almond together form ‘The Awkward Silence’, and they have clearly spent a great deal of effort on this script about a pair of detectives in the early 20th century, which does a good job of conforming to the Radio 4 6:30pm comedy slot format. Weaknesses came in the sound effects – there just weren’t enough of them. If the audience are to be required to ‘watch’ something intended for radio, more entertainment could have come from seeing the performers creating the sounds within plain sight. Lebovits’s inspired Pythonesque clapping together of bowls to recreate horses’ hooves got a big laugh, but the well-written script could still have done with more of these farcical distractions to get the audience on board with the unusual conceit of this show. Likeable, but slightly flawed in the performance, would be an appropriate summary of the first half, although I look forward to seeing if this show makes it successfully onto Radio Oxford, where it will no doubt benefit from professional sound accompaniment.

Practically all those in Oxford theatre will be familiar with the mixed emotions that reviews can bring. Reviewing is a subject that should be taken seriously, which is not something Liam Shaw did at all in his stand-up. In fact, he took it the-very-opposite-of-seriously, recounting the tale of how he had signed up successfully to be the OTR reviewer for this show, wilfully disregarding the highly respected OTR style guide (which I for one am religiously familiar with – now, at least) which sensibly discourages people from reviewing shows they have been involved with the production of. Now within the small insular world of Oxford, it seems common for shows to be reviewed by friends of the performers; I’m already worried that the fact that Shaw goes to my college will result in OTR vetoing my first review, although I’d like to point out he’s not someone I’d class as a friend – no offence intended if you’re reading this, Liam! This (failed) attempt to write a self-congratulatory review of himself was extremely funny, but it was Xandra Burns, OTR Co-Editor, who emerged as the hero of the piece, discovering the conflict of interest and responding coolly and wittily to the stream of nonsense emails she was subjected to by Shaw and his co-conspirators. All’s well in the world when the punchline to a set is an impressively shoddy certificate featuring Clip Art, awarded by OTR for “Diligent Correspondence”.

Next was George Chopping, whose surreal poetry and endearing performance style won the audience round after initial confusion. Yarns about wood and dirty children contributed to his laidback set, replete with swans, which at times brought to mind Tim Key.

The brief performance by Rory & Tim was certainly them not at their best, although they still seemed to have a few more fans by the end. Having seen them play to much more laughter before, it seemed that their hearts were not in it – perhaps they were too busy thinking about their upcoming show of new material ( 8pm Sunday 26th February, The Wheatsheaf) to devote their full attention to their performance in this show.

In the end though, the job of finishing this show was left to experienced comic Paul Fung, whose confident and polished material highlighted the fact that student comedians are often a little bit rough around the edges at times. Nimbly skipping through topics as diverse as heroin overdoses, feminism, and body language, he succeeded in getting the most laughs from the audience with his assured and relaxed delivery. Going out of the Port Mahon after this show, I found myself incongruously pondering whether OTR reviews would really be better written by the performers themselves…well, at least I made sure to spellcheck min!

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Karl Dando

at 12:33 on 25th Feb 2012

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'I thought he said he was French?' deadpanned Vyvyan Almond after Max Fletcher's spectacularly demented attempt at an accent, and this kind of fourth-wall-tickling winking aside was typical of the evening's main event: a read-through of Almond and partner Ralph Jones' 'Aeroplane'-esque spoof Victorian detective drama 'Shrapnell & Fogg'. A tired 'Sherlock Holmes'-like dynamic might seem inevitable, but Jones and Almond manage something refreshing, with Jones a picture of easy everyman sympathy, like a more relatable (read: younger) Alexander Armstrong, partnered to Almond's posturing, semi-mad but charismatically drunk Shrapnell. Their thrustingly fraternal relationship played out against a backdrop of deeply intended silliness – rarely was an opportunity for wordplay passed up –, soundtracked by the charmingly low-rent chimes of Liam Shaw's keyboard. Almond and Jones both supplemented their main roles with various incidental characters over the course of the story, drawling or squeeking as required, with the rest filled out by Max Fletcher and the superbly hairy Adam Lebovits. Sidebar: I think this might literally be the first show I've ever seen featuring Lebovits where he hasn't taken his shirt off at some point. The various scatterings of caricatures and genteel grotesques were all voiced well, either with knowing (and often, in the case of Lebovits, screaming) enthusiasm, and a keen sense for the ridiculous, or more measured and sympathetic, but with a gentler sense of silliness. Tonally, it was balanced well, and some of the vocal concoctions were the kind of pure aural delight that is surely the only real justification for radio even still existing. Almond, at times, pretty much sounded like a moustache.

That the event retained the sense of dynamism afforded more physical performances is testament the vocal inventiveness and verve of the cast, and the whole style of 'Shrapnell & Fogg', with its endless sense of linguistic play – 'There was a tap on the door. But it didn't work, and was largely decorative' – seems specifically well considered for its medium. The enthusiasm of the audience bodes well for these dapper detectives, and hopefully Jones and Almond will respond with more adventures for the duo soon. All in all, this was a comedy show.

Multiple people asked me last night if I was reviewing just the first half or the stand-ups as well. I responded that I didn't know. I still don't, but have decided to offer anyway a handy, easy-to-use pull-quote for each performer. Because what are reviews for after all?

LIAM SHAW

'Small and charming, like a child's drawing.'

GEORGE CHOPPING

'An excellent poet and a powerful woodsman.'

RORY & TIM

'Buy three and get the cheapest free!'

PAUL FUNG

'A real fung guy.'

ADAM LEBOVITS

'Unnecessary.'

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Comments

Liam Shaw; 25th Feb 2012; 11:11:18

John, I thought you told me that you were going to write a much nicer review? I'm definitely not buying you that drink now.

Ralph Jones; 25th Feb 2012; 11:21:25

Leave it, Liam. We all know what John's like (an absolute bell-end). I said it wouldn't make any difference if we offered to pay him.

Ralph Jones; 25th Feb 2012; 11:21:41

Shit, can people read these comments?

John Lees; 25th Feb 2012; 13:39:54

May I refer you to the section of the style guide stating 'Constructive, articulate, specific criticism is much more credible than vague, gratuitous, personal attacks'

It's a shame it isn't also applicable to the comments, where vague, gratuitous, personal attacks are all too common.

Ralph Jones; 25th Feb 2012; 13:47:23

Oh fuck off, John. Ram the style guide up your anus. What's Liam Shaw ever done to you anyway?

John Lees; 25th Feb 2012; 13:48:11

I am not affiliated with Liam Shaw in any way

Ralph Jones; 25th Feb 2012; 13:52:58

You reek of insincerity.

Vyvyan Almond; 27th Feb 2012; 13:16:18

Cheers Karl! But...'Airplane'.

Vyvyan Almond; 27th Feb 2012; 16:09:45

And, yes, Liam, I agree. Evidently they will!

Ralph Jones; 27th Feb 2012; 16:10:12

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