Some things are timeless. A great song, a great location, the human appreciation of dogs. Similarly, the pure joy that can be found in physical, silent, slapstick comedy of the early 20th century seems to be an eternally effective universal language and Told By An Idiot’s latest world pays great credit to that.
The set appears to be simple. I found myself admiring it but similarly questioning how we’ll manage to appreciate it without getting bored of it’s ship-like aesthetic - but they effectively manage to change the world multiple times with absurdly consistent and entertaining storytelling techniques; we have to meet them in the middle in creating this world, and they strike a great balance in giving the audience enough work to do to pull off this imaginary feat. This is aided by what can only be described as an astonishingly well-conceived and executed set, simple only in its efficiency. It’s numerous faculties and trap doors are utilised to great comic effect and theatrical literacy, inventive almost beyond words.
Performatively, the quartet demonstrate a ferociously well-understood degree of mime - best articulated in their physicality. Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Tramp’ walk is perfectly emulated, and I’ve discovered a new favourite character on-stage that comes in the form of a Bellboy. A character that says no lines, but who’s ritual for getting into character (hunching back the shoulders, a small but heavy hop of the spot and droopingly excited mannerisms) remains one of the most endearingly comic acts I’ve seen in theatre.
Music greatly compliments the piece, with almost every note being played live and to great effect. The only thing more impressive about the group’s ability to emulate the slickness of silent cinema performances whilst simultaneously providing a score is their activity and presence with the audience, with their interactions being both well practiced and theorised and refreshingly risky.
Although there is somewhat a story to be told here, narrative and plot certainly take the back seat to allow for a more experience-orientated piece, appropriately feeling like a comedy act that is about individual moments as opposed to an overarching narrative. The only qualm I have with this is that due to the performative nature of the work, it loses its endurance for the final fifteen minutes or so. Naturally, they try to return to the true-story narrative and ground their work for it to have that nice, rounded off ending - and they do accomplish this, but at the cost of some level of audience fatigue. However, the rest of the piece does enough to get away with this, as it is more concerned in demonstrating legacy than plot, (appropriately so) and legacy is an intangible, non-linear thing.
For a fun, electric and intelligent night of theatre, spend your night aboard the SS Cairnrona with these two comedy legends. You’ll be beaming start to finish.
Reviewer: Louis Thompson
Reviewed: 19th February 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★