Getting to the other side (condensed)

history of comedy trio

The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged) 

The Reduced Shakespeare Company

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

SO why did, and, perhaps more importantly, where and when did the fabled chicken of yore first cross the road . . . and did was the other side ever reached?

This, and other tantalising secrets of the comedy universe, are . . . well not exactly answered, more shot at, by the RSC trio who take us from the cave man to Cameron and Osborne with no-one and nothing safe in between.

Jesus and Abe Lincoln, for example, are perhaps not best known for their stand-up, but put your hands together anyway.

Nor is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a war older than most of the earth’s population, usually seen as a (gun)barrel of laughs, but perhaps that is because the peace process has not had the benefit of the combatant leaders inhaling helium balloons for their discussions. Even Hitler would have had difficultly being taken seriously sounding like Joe Pasquale in overtight jeans.

But perhaps it shows us that in comedy nothing is sacred. Laughter is not only the best medicine, in some instances it is the only medicine; the survivors of concentration camps told of the jokes and grim humour that lifted spirits. Comedy, as American Presbyterian minister, Prof Conrad Hyers, said, expresses a “stubborn refusal to give tragedy and fate the final say.”.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company have abridged the history to a series of sketches, and, like any sketch show it is a bit of a curate’s egg with not every sketch nor every joke quite hitting the mark – although the trio were very good at getting a laugh out of even that . . . in case you weren’t Canadian.

And it wasn’t all, I say, I say, I say, good clean fun either. Some of the jokes, some of the references and some of the areas crashed rather than tip-toed into are conversation stoppers, topics such as racism, racial stereotypes and religion for example – which, conversely, raised some of the biggest laughs of the night.

They are subjects which make people in the audience uncomfortable – but that is the point. Comedy is not just about jokes and laughs, it is to make people think, embarrass errant leaders and authoritarian authority, prick pomposity, lampoon hypocrisy and, on a good day, even start a revolution.

This show is hardly academic and hardly a history of comedy, on fact it never gives more than a cheery wave at a distance to its subject, but it is fast, furious and very funny, and it will make you think, and that, abridged of course, is all you really need to know about comedy.

Roger Clarke

28-05-15

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, the original Reduced Shakespeare Company production, will be at  the  Festival Theatre Malvern, Thursday 9th July, 01684 892 277, www.malvern-theatres.co.uk 

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