Can of Worms

Devised by Daniel Bye, Nick Jesper and Paul Mundell
Strange Bedfellows
Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, and un-announced venues
(2007)

Publicity graphic

Can of Worms - 'a clown sketch show with consequences' - features five sketches. Four of the sketches, whilst acceptable enough, are very derivative and add nothing to anything. One, the first, entitled 473, is extremely funny and demands serious attention.

Bye, Jesper and Mundell are an exuberant and talented bunch, coming from the right place and waving their fingers at the right targets. All of the sketches feature, one way or another, the issue of torture and loss of personal freedoms. The last four are very familiar in style of performance (tick off the originals as the trio works) and content - trendy vicar, softly spoken liberal teacher, civil servants in conversation and so on. Commonplace stuff since Beyond the Fringe. And not one anachronism or satirical swipe matches Bennett's vicar, let alone Cook and Miller in the RAF "what we need now is a futile gesture" sketch. How hard that hit half a century ago!

So a bundle of talent and energy and good intentions, but nothing here to have Bush and Blair trembling in their boots.

But there is 473. This is less a sketch than a short play waiting to be developed. We see a Cleese type figure (Nick Jesper) training a young innocent (Paul Mundell) in the craft of torture. Daniel Bye makes an appearance as a hooded victim.

What raises this piece way above average is the performance. In particular, it must be said, the performance of Paul Mundell. He is 473 and his performance is unique. Almost mute, dressed in baggy overalls, carrying his packed lunch in a plazzy bag, he exudes genial innocence with a slight dash of anarchic malice. Think Chaplin, Keaton, Harpo, Wisdom. The piece owes much to all of them, but Mundell brings a lot more besides. I have never seen such a winning performance. It grows and grows until the audience is in tears.

It comes as a shock to see something new. But with this first sketch Strange Bedfellows innovate. The cast work together so well. Direction is impeccable. The bizarre comedic flow trips into a number of brief chilling tableaux then careens off to inventive heights of physical comedy. We love Mundell and when he finally kills his mentor and takes over the role, with all that that implies, we are left with a very strange taste in the mouth.

Strange Bedfellows are developing the show through performance prior to the Edinburgh Fringe. They should drop sketeches two to five and see where 473 can take them. Whatever they do, I'll be booking my seat as early as I can. Their potential is huge. If they appear near you in the meantime, don't hesitate, call the Box Office.

This review was lost in cyberspace for a considerable time and the show's run at Bradford has finished. We do apologise for the delay which was beyond our control.

Reviewer: Ray Brown