Lockdown

Thu 31st July – Sun 24th August 2014

reviews

Victoria Ferguson

at 09:07 on 2nd Aug 2014

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The Leeds Tealights’ reputation precedes them, and indeed these five students give a consistent performance in their most recent show, ‘Lockdown’.

For anyone looking to enjoy student sketch comedy that isn’t plagued by corpsing, countless in-jokes and trying to steal laughs through the desperate measure of crude comedy, the Tealights offer an hour of more considered writing. It isn’t all laugh-out-loud funny, but the show has a refreshing professionalism about it.

It is neat, from the energetic pace to the matching outfits whose ‘blank canvas’ effect save the audience from being distracted by individual identities beyond the sketch characters. Sound and lighting are used to great effect, and the sharp blackouts and technical cues allow for swift scene changes.

The Tealights were at a disadvantage during this particular performance. Not only did they battle the interruption of a fire alarm, but one of the skills of sketch comedy is creating an atmosphere of infectious amusement so that the most absurd jokes are met with laughter rather than with rolling eyes. With the audience reaching the grand total of four, the actors were hard up to create any atmosphere at all, let alone one of hilarity. As Stephen Rainbird pointed out, his appeal to the woman in the front row to join him on stage was quite an ask. She did after all represent a quarter of the audience.

One of the sketches that I particularly enjoyed follows a Russian mercenary through his interview at a children’s entertainment company. The real comic value of the sketch lies in the characterisation by Sam Newton and Nick Bechman. Their portrayal of the gay couple holding the interview is excellent. Even without committing themselves to exchanging a kiss on the lips, their performances are thoroughly convincing. Their reactions to the suggestion of how to create playground fun with a Kalashnikov are camp comedy gold. The punchline is revealed to be the mercenary’s confusion between ‘children’s entertainer’ and ‘children’s detainer’. Meh. At least I’d been amused in the build-up, and hadn’t been pinning my hopes on a precarious one-liner.

Indeed, the quality of the acting saves some of the weaker jokes; the show is polished; there is good chemistry between the performers. The Tealights tick boxes. The show works, but the jokes don’t always click. Fortunately, the steady pace of ‘Lockdown’ means that if a joke doesn’t tickle you, the quintet will at least move on quickly to the next attempt.

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Alex Woolley

at 09:36 on 2nd Aug 2014

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When a theatre’s fire alarm is the aspect of a show that provoked most laughter from the audience, it is a sure sign that the intentionally humorous parts of Lockdown were somewhat weak.

In fairness to the Leeds Tealights, the fire alarm went off with bizarrely good timing – in a sketch involving a pilot and his moribund dog, the alarm sounded immediately after the pilot had flicked the ignition switch. It all seemed so intentional, and George Howard, playing the aviator, made a good attempt to incorporate the intrusion into the show. Such seamlessness made all the more hilarious one’s realisation that the house might, in fact, be on fire.

The show as a whole demonstrated similar seamlessness. The sketches zipped along, slick and well-rehearsed. Unfortunately, many of them were flawed at a more fundamental level. Punch-lines tended to be predictable; the jokes often lacked complexity; and a strong sense of character was frequently missing.

A sketch of the ’69 moon landing was particularly predictable in its punch-line: Buzz Aldrin, played by Stephen Rainbird, boasts that he is looking forward to becoming the first man on the moon; Neil Armstrong, played by Howard, is visibly angry about the decision; Armstrong, obviously, manages to outmanoeuvre his friend and gets out onto the moon’s surface first. It might have been excusable, had there been plenty more jokes to the sketch.

Other sketches relied on irritatingly implausible puns, despite an overall naturalism of tone. It is doubtful anyone has ever confused yoga and yoghurt, nor is it impressive to point out that the word “bouncer” could also refer to a man who is literally jumping up and down.

Some of the ideas in Lockdown were better conceived. The sketch, set in a vet’s clinic, in which someone confuses a man in his thirties for a cat, simultaneously mistaking a cat for his father, was pleasingly absurd. Elsewhere in the show, an impressive number of app-based jokes was produced from an initial pun on Mac computers and Mackintosh coats.

Lockdown is not destined for greatness. Too much simplicity and predictability mars the show. But the Leeds Tealights are a slick and energetic bunch, whose potential is far from negligible.

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