REVIEW: Sketch Up!, not at the Leicester Comedy Festival

Instead of old man yells at cloud, this review starts with young-ish man shakes fist at Covid. These sketches, the work of Sheffield based Rachel E. Thorn and produced by Melanie Crawley and Gerard Fletcher were to be performed this month at the Leicester Comedy Festival, and it sure would have been fun to go see them in action.

For fairly obvious reasons, this will not be happening now, so Sketch Up! have stuck a bumper 45 sketches up online (peformed by Rachel E. Thorn, Melanie Crawley, Gerard Fletcher, Rowe David McClelland, Ali Mylon, Letty Butler) for you to enjoy at your leisure, perhaps while in the bath or building an elaborate cardboard maze for your hamster and / or toddler.

Rachel said in a pre-festival interview in these pages that these sketches are non-satirical, and make zero reference to Covid or politics.

It is indeed a delight to hear ludicrous civil service interviews, Enid Blyton characters sending lashes of texts from the beach, and the idiocy of door-to-door fairytale Princes without thinking about face masks, hand sanitiser, or the incompetence of Boris Johnson.

But everything is at least a bit political; the former, for instance, is a fairly brutal takedown of that middle class staple the fast track career interview. Lines like “You live in a shared house with people you don’t like in Clapham” are both funny and a fairly savage takedown of the banality of ambition and the invisible rails that guide privileged or otherwise lives.

My favourite sketches here were the ones with a bit of bite, and those telling little moments of despair amid the well observed parodies of fairy tales and ancient children’s’ fiction. So a Dad’s reassurance that there are no monsters under the bed somehow descending into explaining how a furtive morning wank in the shower is now his only source of joy, or mother bear and daddy bear discussing their porridge and suspiciously young girl problems at marriage guidance counselling, give these deceptively simple sketches a salty undercurrent.

Just as with all good sketches, these all settle into their premises quickly and escalate with satisfying pace. The punchlines can be hit and miss, as with all comedy ever, but there’s enough bubbling away here for that not to be a problem. I particularly enjoyed the Weatherman sketch, which starts off as a simple list exercise but heads off on weird and wordy winds, and the repeated mining of the absurdity of pregnancy, childbirth and marriage.

There’s also a lot of fun being had here with the banality of small talk: these characters are frequently taking things very literally indeed, with some fairly dark and at times jarring consequences.

If you were the sort of person to take sketches far too seriously – and take it from me, don’t be that person, you’ll never get invited to any good parties – there’s a fairly decent critique of late capitalist heteronormativity amid the doomed engagements and pretentiously worded gastro pub menus.

But! Pretend I didn’t say that. Instead, please enjoy these sketches with as much or as little politics as you like, perhaps with a class of mid-price Merlot, and your headphones on so as to block out the noise of those infuriating Clapham housemates.

Rating: **** 4 stars

Sketch Up! is available for free online here:

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