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The Dutch Elm Conservatoire
Verdict: Inspired comedy night
London - Latchmere - Aug-Sep 03
Oram and Meeten. Tom Meeten's ready with a welcome to Battersea, though Steve Oram, playing an American tourist, is keener to go to Madame Tussaud's. They work the audience fast with identical chat-up lines, but really want to know which of the two of them we prefer. Things are set to get nasty, when Steve Oram goes off to be the voice of Ian. Ian can't get a girlfriend, and as he tries to befriend women in the audience, ('Full of bastards. I have put a bomb in your house'), we learn why.
Generations of schoolchildren glued to repeats of The Lone Ranger have dreaded the Masked Crusader learning the translation of Tonto's endearment Kemo Sabe. Tonight, a singing, strumming cowboy (Steve Oram: 'I'm 6 foot long, got a massive dong') and his Native American buddy (Tom Meeten in headdress) recreate something of that moment.
They perform one of their classic routines 'What's in the bag?' - an increasingly violent game-show. Oram and Meeten conjure up an elegance of wit from both far-fetched and apparently mundane situations. Together they create a special kind of theatrical magic
Mick and Sergei. Gareth Tunley (Mick) and Philip Brodie (Sergei) received a Fringe Report Award 03 for their work as The Legendary Polowski. Tonight they present two new characters.
Mick and Sergei are brothers from Salford, bent on time travel. The vital accessory is a microwave-oven - the time machine. There's a bulb-operated cycle horn too, to warn of excessive time-travelling speed.
Mick's in purple polo-shirt, camouflage cap, glasses, and not too bright upstairs. Sergei's in stained sleeveless denim top, blue baseball cap, hefting a cigarette and can of Carling, a slurring philosopher. 'Why are we here?' he challenges. 'Not why are WE here. Why are we here - the biggie.'
What follows is, as the brothers put it 'a bungee-jump through time' - via the microwave. Tonight, it's not working - no mains socket - so we can't revisit the Woodstock Festival (an audience suggestion). But there's a definite danger of them being able to plug it in one of these evenings; and the London comedy circuit could well experience its first black hole.
A delight of fringe theatre is being able to see superb actors and comedians developing new material. Philip Brodie and Gareth Tunley achieved a rare excellence with the Met's two most incompetent officers, The Legendary Polowski. Mick and Sergei crackle with the unique humour these two fine performers possess. It's sheer joy to see them working together again.
The Dutch Elm Conservatoire are five gifted actors, who create a set of sparkling and original sketches. The destination's Edinburgh 04, with hopefully plenty of London gigs en route.
Jim Field Smith's the red-haired, bearded gent with glasses; Jordan Long's the slightly podgy one with wild curly hair (overtones of Henry Spencer in David Lynch's movie Eraserhead); Stephen Evans the shorter man with black hair; Renton Skinner the very tall chap with glasses (sometimes) and black hair; Rufus Jones the honest-looking one, of medium height and dark hair.
They launch into a tour version of Sweeney Todd, but an argument about footwear aborts it. Three of them as film censors watch porn films, counting obscenities while discussing their unusual family lives; Jordan Long stars briefly as Sheena Easton (in hair net with beer can) at Caesar's Palace in 1977; Stephen Evans stars as a waiter mistaken for a spy who, well, turns the tables.
There's a fine sketch on how doctors announce terminal cancer via cartoon mime; five police officers sing 'Deo - Daylight Come And We Want To Come Home' after losing a suicide talk-down; a soft felt hat gets lost, purloined, and found; a kleptomaniac posing as a survivor of the Gresford Coal Mining Disaster gets come-uppance.
An office team-bonding spoof involves cowboy practice; the Vicar of Dimchurch is revealed as a 1784 smuggler with a penchant for mobile phones; a manipulative photographer gets unusual school-photo poses; the annual performance review's satirised in an all-too-accurate parody of uninterest. There's plenty more, including some strapping voice-overs, and, being a Sunday, they end with a tribute to the Son of God.
There are no accurate comparisons to Dutch Elm Conservatoire's comedy. It's well-written, invigoratingly fresh, taut and funny. The scope of the sketches is wide, and there's a risky use of nuance, rather than going always for the obvious (though there are some cracking belly-laughs too). Exciting, and a lot of fun.
The Latchmere Theatre is creating a fine standard of new drama. This inspired bill (Oram & Meeten, Mick & Sergei, and The Dutch Elm Conservatoire) adds a first-class comedy night to the venue's impressive reputation.
Credits - Comedy Performers: Philip Brodie (Sergei) & Gareth Tunley (Mick). Steve Oram and Tom Meeten.
Credits - The Dutch Elm Conservatoire: Written, directed, produced and performed by (alpha order): Stephen Evans, Rufus Jones, Jordan Long, Renton Skinner, Jim Field Smith.
Credits - Latchmere Theatre: Technical Managers - Matt Bristo, Nick Hayman-Joyce. Literary Associate - Abigail Gonda. Associate Artist - Jennifer MacDonald. Associate Director - Phil Hewitt. Associate Director - Johnnie Lyne-Pirkis. Artistic Director - Paul Higgins.
reviewed Sunday 7 September 03 / Latchmere Theatre
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