If you like your sketch comedy with a tinge of social consciousness, Lonely Hearts Sketch Club may just be the right hour for you. From flits of wedding speeches that twist ideas of heteronormativity on their head, to gender-bent Bob the Builder unpacking issues of gender, and a hysterical skewering of modern relationships set in the aisles of a plane. With gusto, style, and exaggerative comedic finesse this hyper-comic collective serve up a smorgasbord of vaguely Beatles-titled sketches from the eponymous album. Tonally fresh, thematically uproarious, and frantically physical – Manchester Revue just about hit every mark with this mercurial offering.
To explore the extents of the silliness on show – we’re talking a Dragons Den pitch to Deborah Meaden by two Austrian performance artists who re-contextualise business terms into their dance moves and jokes. These more light offerings are sprinkled in between sketches that harness an essence of consciousness and a degree of social responsibility. In that vein, a sketch that opens with the disclaimer that it was adapted from the experiences of women working in hospitality adds a degree of well-meaning candour to proceedings. In the performance, Chloe [Last Name] takes a caricature of a poorly-trained and toxically masculine hospitality manager and invites us into a sensitivity meeting beyond belief. Except of course, it comes from the real.
Much of the humour in Lonely Hearts Sketch Club stems from taking on situations which are already quite tense, awkward, or strange, and then turning the character craziness filter all the way up to eleven. With a little help from their friends, each member of the revue has their precious moment, showing off a day in the life of our society with exacerbation and eccentric personalities at the core. Despite this being a sketch piece, it is one with a spirit that will come to live either within you or without you. You’ll see pertinent reflections of harmful notions in everyday life presenting biting satire that hollows out the comedy in the social acts which too often are normalised or dismissed. When I’m sixty four, I expect I’ll look back at this piece to recognise its’ resonance, while still managing to leave the audience in hysterics.
Among the more memorable sections, a steaming parody of West London Upper Middle Class Mum Culture sticks out as one of the best realised of the lot. One scene sees the performers deliver hysterical horse-like appearances in near-gurning their face into a ‘chewed-up’ posh-ness that punctures winding laughter among the audience. At the centre of that sketch is the realisation of the self-centred and otherwise disregarding nature of people in these well-to-do social circles. While done before, this sits among the aforementioned sketches that encapsulate a little critique of the social zeitgeist. In between that, a sexual dedication to Pesto and a Bra Hat smack prop comedy in amongst the outrageousness of it all.
That formula just seems to make the whole thing tick along nicely, but did leave me with a few questions. Does socially aware sketch show need to be socially aware across its’ entire runtime? There was a certain starkness between the scenes that delivered a sucker-punch satirical wit and those which were more absurd and abstract. Thematically, things could be a little more controlled to make sure the hits really land. Equally, while the prop comedy was often fun sometimes it felt like the menagerie of props on show distracted somewhat from the real talent on display. The piece could be tightened up a little, but the audience has a hoot, and nobody leaves without either a smile on their face or a mild feeling of respiratory recoil from laughing too damn much.
Sparking, silly – socially conscious? The Manchester Revue leave you wanting little else than their over-the-top excitable wits.
Recommended Drink: Grab a Pink Pepper Gin and Tonic for this spicily spritely hour of sketch show genius.
Catch Manchester Revue’s Lonely Hearts Sketch Club at TheSpace @ Niddry St – Studio until August 22nd at 20:20. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.