first night

Just Deserts: One Hump or Two?

Sophie Zeldin O'Neill give Durham's first show of the year its Just Deserts.

The flier said it all really. “One hump or two?” it arrestingly asked its reader, displaying a tuxedo-sporting camel standing, inexplicably, beside a cup of tea. Even for the most patient and obliging of audience members, this image, like Just Desert’s show, is delightfully random at best and irritatingly confusing at worst.


Going to watch a fledgling sketch comedy troupe perform one of their first big gigs is a little bit like playing Russian Roulette – you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. When the sketch group in question has been around for about a year, it is to be expected that they’d have a fairly cohesive comedic voice, but while the chemistry they have with one another was clear to see, this evident enthusiasm never spilled over into the audience. What Just Deserts lack in comic timing and acting ability they certainly compensated for in sheer bravado, performing entire sketches during which the audience sat in silence, unable to quite bring themselves to form an audible laugh, most likely due to an almost complete absence of punchlines. I was desperate for most of the sketches to last longer, but more in the hope that they would draw out a semblance of coherence than for any comedic value.


The group dabbled in meta-comedy, they punned, they shouted lines, all in a vain attempt at magnifying their humour, skipping right through their tour-de-cringe to reach the realms of the puerile and the just plain odd. It would be unfair to claim that they didn’t intersperse their set with some genuinely entertaining moments, but it just would have been nice if the latter had outweighed the former. I liked the recurring sketches about ‘downing’ non-alcoholic beverages, and those which equated Catherine of Aragon with Nicole Kidman as the abandoned wife of a domineering husband. The LibDem séance sketch, with Nick Clegg as an occult leader, was well received, paying testament to the fact that the group ought to play to their audience’s interests rather than their own. But the closest we got to a belly laugh was during the sketch in which Dom Riley and Evan Jones play fast-talking, pun-wielding commentators – the twist being that instead of football players, their object of focus is Italian cuisine that ‘warms up’ on the sidelines and ‘brings much to the table’. When puns are your best shot at getting a laugh though, there’s got to be something very wrong indeed.


Some of Just Desert’s members have genuine raw talent. Laurence Stanley has fantastic stage presence, with crazy caveman hair to boot, and Steffi Walker has the role of ditsy maternal figure down to a tee. But it is Dom Riley, undoubtedly the best actor of the bunch, who carries many of the sketches, in several cases providing the crucial antidote to Evan Jones’ misplaced self-indulgence.


Nevertheless, the show itself was slick and well-executed. Technically, the production was virtually flawless and Just Deserts are to be highly commended for putting together a show which, in terms of lighting, sound and movement in blackouts, was superb. The group were also hampered by the small audience size, which was not conducive to the kind of atmosphere ideal at a comedy gig, where it ought to be possible to release a huge, unrestrained, spontaneous guffaw and then swiftly slink back into glorious anonymity amongst the crowd of fellow chucklers. Here, the laughter was permanently forming in little bubbles in my trachea, unable to quite reach the surface and the audible world. With some major honing, I have no doubt that Just Deserts could find an audience for their style of comedy, but until then they remain, just like those little bubbles of laughter, a long way from reaching their potential.


13 October 2010

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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