Alex Woolley

at 17:46 on 20th Aug 2014

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Separate but Equal is comprised of two separate two-person acts of rather unequal quality. First comes two-woman ‘Broadsquad,’ a series of sketches void of much wit and greeted with little laughter. In second place is two-man ‘The Many Men,’ a much subtler, more complicated, and, frankly, better acted series of sketches – not that I mean to imply ‘The Many Men’ would stand up excessively well in comparison with other comedy at the Fringe.

‘Broadsquad’ is principally marred by a lack of complexity in its jokes. A sketch early on in Hanna Stanbridge and Courtney Johanssen’s set, which concerns the relationship of a niece to her well-connected aunt, appears to exist primarily for its final punchline – “She’s more of a cunt than you’d think.” It is a cheap laugh, to use a swearword that is surprisingly foul for mid-afternoon. Like all cheap laughs, it may get the audience to cough a bit and sound slightly as if they are amused, but it is not actually funny. I can say the word “cunt” to myself and giggle at it. I don’t need to travel across Edinburgh to get that thrill. This sort of simplicity is everywhere in Stanbridge and Johanssen’s writing.

The first half of Separate but Equal is also disappointing for the holes in this duo’s performance abilities. If you cannot play the guitar, it makes little sense to put on a sketch in which guitar-playing is featured. Playing an imaginary guitar with recorded music in the background is not an adequate substitute if this does not form an integral aspect of the gags. More time spent working on accents and fake-retching would also be worthwhile.

‘The Many Men’ is more interesting than ‘Broadsquad,’ and has far more potential. Matt Urely, the writer of the sketches, performs alongside Gilchrist Muir. Both are wearing monochrome morph-suits, which immediately lends an intriguing veneer of absurdity to what they are doing.

For the most part they follow through with this absurdity in the content of their sketches. Particularly strong are their depiction of Doris the herpes carrier, Muir’s unsettling description of eating cockroaches, and Urely’s portrayal of a man who has his hands replaced with lesbian fists. Other sketches are, however, less successful, and the pair’s use of physical theatre techniques could be improved.

Perhaps Muir and Urely will one day become notable comedians, and manage to develop their already distinctive voice into something more compelling and consistent. If you can bear to sit through Stanbridge and Johanssen, it might be worth catching ‘The Many Men’ now so that, in twenty years’ time, you can claim you discovered Muir and Urely before they were big.

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Kate Wilkinson

at 23:17 on 20th Aug 2014

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Brace yourselves for fake penises and morph suits, STDs and sketches within sketches. Separate But Equal is a fast-paced hour split between two double acts.

Hanna Stanbridge and Courtney Johanssen aka Broadsquad are likeable, but sadly their material rarely hits the mark due to poor timing and weak gags. Mat Urey and Gilchrist Muir as The Many Men deliver an unconventional routine with off-the-rails surrealism and committed physicality. Their material is more original but I feel their brand of humour is perhaps an acquired taste. For a sketch show, it needs more laughs.

Broadsquad intersperse snappy scenes with lengthier sketches, but neither reach their full potential despite the enthusiastic delivery. For me, their one gem is the sketch in which Stanbridge describes an embarrassing illness to Johanssen which turns out to be athlete’s foot. This revelation is only reached after Johanssen discloses a number of her own embarrassing STIs. Through strong delivery the pair milk an average conceit to full effect.

The Many Men are almost deliberately hard to follow, each sketch blurring into the other like a psychedelic dream-sequence. The pair begin one scene only to veer off into a tangential storyline. In the middle of what seems to be a coffee shop romance, a random customer starts a lengthy monologue about being tortured in a desert, comparing the experience to the act of beholding the ugly female barista. The bombastic customer rants in increasingly ridiculous detail, narrating how he had been forced to stare at the sun, eyelids removed, as insects would drink from his eyes.

Mat Urey’s writing is imaginative and verbally dextrous if not to everyone’s comedic palate. The pair enact his words dynamically and they excel at telling a story. Nevertheless, I often feel lost at sea and though their style is intentionally extreme, there is a fine line between eccentricity and self-indulgence. Too often comedy is replaced with wackiness.

Broadsquad reveal the odd glimpse of promise but for now are sadly just not funny enough. Urey and Muir possess a toolbox of dramatic essentials: lithe physicality, rich voices and committed characterisations. However, the material needs screwing tighter as well as bolting together with more laughs.

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