|Comedian Dies in the Middle of Joke|
|Published on Friday, 17 August 2012|
Poet Ross Sutherland has made a thoroughly audacious show, focussing on the last five minutes of the life of fictional comedian Joe Pops – who was shot on stage in a comedy club in 1983. This is an immersive play; in fact, it’s more than immersive play. With a little help from performance duo The Aspidistras, the audience enact the entire thing, after Sutherland (portraying the club compere) sets us off.
It works very well. After each five-minute performance we rotate to a new table, and take on different parts. Hecklers are instructed to improvise and each group must, at one point, nominate someone to go up on stage and play Pops, reading his lines from autocue. (An extra piece of interest is to try and spot the types of people who will want to play the lead role, and the types who would rather not. We had a lot of very similar renditions of Pops – I would have preferred the variety gained if the role had been randomised.)
The tense atmosphere sets up the mood of the nuclear-war-threatened early eighties very well. The laughs come from the heckles, different each time as various characters are instructed to improvise. As the show goes on, smart players take note of Pops’ fixed lines to generate bigger laughs. I also found it quite entertaining to see Sutherland, skulking at the back of the room, chuckling and enjoying the show that he had boldly got this paying audience to perform for him.
At the end of the show there is a moment, after a final Pops has died, when Sutherland takes to the stage again to perform a final monologue. One of his lines and a quick Shakespearian quote make me think he was going to do something astounding, think that he was going to weave all these heckles and oddities into a final summing up of all that we have been through together. Sadly, that doesn’t quite happen. But it would be wrong to condemn this bold an exciting show for that; it’s still one of the most striking, entertaining and exciting shows I’ve found at the Fringe this year.
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