Canal Café Theatre
Canal Café Theatre
The show that advertises itself as "the world’s longest running live comedy show", and which features an annual review of the year at the Edinburgh Fringe, is not currently running live as the country is put into lockdown—and it won't be in Edinburgh this year either. However, there is a special online episode to keep fans going until it resumes its up-to-the-minute satire shows at London's Canal Café Theatre.
This NewsRevue Special, available on YouTube, was recorded on 19 March 2020, just after most live venues had been forced to close, in front of an audience of, it appears from the sound, around half a dozen—they do their best, but it doesn't really recreate the atmosphere of a packed Edinburgh venue, which is where I've always seen their shows before.
If you have seen a previous NewsRevue show in the last 40 years, you will recognise the format. It's a very fast-moving combination of sketches, voice-over one-liners and songs with new lyrics set to well-known tunes performed by a talented and hard-working cast of two male and two female actors—in this case Frankie Hyde-Peace, George Hider, Camille Hainsworth-Staples and Matthew Atkins—with the almost-constant live piano soundtrack from musical director Richard Baker.
The targets of the satire are, as might be expected, the coronavirus crisis, Brexit and various figures in the British government and opposition, as well as the US President and presidential candidates. The quality of the material is variable; some items are clever and incisive, while others produce more of a "hmm" than a laugh, and some lyrics fit their chosen tune better than others.
Technically, it looks like it was a spur-of-the moment decision to put online a show on which they have worked hard with no budget for filming or editing. It is recorded using two cameras, one giving a slightly wonky view of the whole stage and the other moving in for close-ups, but the auto settings on the cameras struggle with the high contrast of stage lighting against a black background. The sound has been recorded in the room rather than through the sound desk, so the room acoustics can make the lyrics difficult to interpret, and the lengthy blackouts between scenes seem so much longer when looking at a black screen than when you are in the venue, despite the piano fills.
However they have to be applauded for getting a show out on time in a different format from the one they are used to in such difficult circumstances. The performances of this talented bunch are as full-on and energetic as always, despite not having much of an audience to feed off—which is so important for comedy—and so there is plenty here to please old fans of the show and perhaps to attract new ones for when the live shows eventually resume.
Reviewer: David Chadderton