Comedy sketch shows at Edinburgh take many forms but just occasionally you come across a classic, one which pays homage to the great genre of British university revue from Beyond the Fringe onwards, but updates it – if only slightly – to make it relevant to a modern audience. That was certainly what was presented by the six members of By No Mean Feet in the second edition of their literary sketch show, The Canon. Three years on and the formula works just as well.
So yes, we get a couple of Shakespearean sketches but with Lear, for example, crossed with the Kardashians, and an opening routine around the Scottish play which cannot fail to bring to mind Jonathan Miller in a Tudor bonnet, although that was before this cast were born. In fact, possibly before their parents were born…
Literary parody is a genre that works with any audience who have read the same books – or, preferably, been required to do so as a set text. The audience entering see the cast engrossed in their books as a clever set of music tracks plays. Once the show begins, we get one sketch after another, many of them very short and only a very few out-staying their welcome – although the Ajax and Agamemnon skit was slightly self-indulgent.
Otherwise, this was a glorious succession of gags, sketches and setpieces hitting targets as varied as John Milton, the 1001 Nights and Around the World in 80 Days – the latter complete with low-tech flashback. There was a nice change of pace with a wordless Romeo and Juliet, and – a strength of this company – there were definite punchlines throughout rather than letting a piece just peter out.
The Where’s Wally section seemed to have wandered in from a different section of the bookshop, but was very funny all the same, and James Joyce explaining Ulysses to his publisher was the archetypal University sketch – back at Edinburgh where it belongs. And nice to see the latter two – and Harry Potter – sharing the same glasses, with good use of props throughout.
1984 with the other Room 101 was a clever twist and I am glad to see that Roald Dahl has now entered the canon, his first readers having now reached the appropriate age. An intelligent hour then, and a very funny one: it’s so good to have this kind of seriously silly material delivered by six talented performers. Let’s hope it’s not three years before they come back again.