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Penny Dreadfuls
Published on Saturday, 14 August 2010

4 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
Until 30 Aug, 6:00pm (6:55pm)
Reviewed by Trystan Davies

The Penny Dreadfuls have left the past behind and are back in the 21st century, taking their comic precision with them in a new sketch show at the Pleasance Courtyard.

The Dreadfuls, a three-part group made up of Humphrey Ker, David Reed and Thom Tuck,  met in 2002 as part of the Improverts – Edinburgh University’s resident improvisation  act.  Fringe regulars in recent years, they've been touring since 2005 and have established their well known Victorian characters, the Favershams, on the comedy scene.  Now they return to their live sketch-show roots, following success on Radio 4 and forays into BBC2 and BBC3. 

The Penny Dreadfuls are masters of the comic arts, using quirky props, amusing accents and well-timed movements to round off a fine display.  I didn’t expect the bare, colourless stage, but the Dreadfuls are skilled enough to maximise the audience’s imagination – a successful method honed, no doubt, through radio.  I was unsure, having enjoyed the Dreadfuls over the airwaves, how their skills would  translate to the stage – but the use of physical and facial expressions, in particular from Thom Tuck as the young lad in the fisherman sketch, allayed any fears.

The successful, although well-worn, theme is that life can prove to be more amusing from a different angle.  They exaggerate everyday scenes that can be over-dramatised by people – or at least perceived to be.  The concept came through successfully in sketches featuring a boy-racer’s huge ego, or the overly grim tales of a fisherman.  The superhero interrogation in particular proved to have an imaginative punch-line, but this was a quality sometimes lacking in other routines.  I also thought the trio lost their footing on a weak sketch about an abnormal step-Dad/step-son relationship. 

However, I was kept interested in how the stories would finish – particularly when they started weaving together to create double punch-lines.  It's rare to see comedy performed with precision and great timing, but the Penny Dreadfuls are the real deal... it's not a stretch to say they could one day be compared to those other masters of oddity, the Perrier-winning League of Gentlemen.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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