There has been self-referential comedy around almost as long as scripted comedy itself. From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to modern TV shows like 30 Rock, and even blockbusters like 22 Jump Street, a wink to the audience and jokes about the creative process have been used many times before. So, when The Room in the Elephant is revealed to be a play about writing the play, it is not an original idea. But, what Inconvenient Spoof has crafted is a very intricate, intelligent comedy about making a comedy, that while not always being laugh out loud hilarious, should be heralded as a high quality piece of writing.
Essentially, the story plots the making of the show, with everything from the promotional picture to the costumes being decided on stage. Matt Rudkin, Joe Mulcrone and Meredith Colchester enter a newly constructed shed at the end of their garden to write a new show. But soon they decide that the process of writing a play should be the show itself.
To quote Matt in the show, that does sound like “self-referential, meta bullshit”. But the production gets away with it. Thanks to the sheer enthusiasm of the cast, and the dedication to the idea, The Room with the Elephant works well for the most part. There are some genuinely funny moments, great set pieces, and the trio have real on-stage chemistry.
Not all of it works however. Some jokes fail to land, which while the cast members do reference, it doesn’t make them any funnier. There is also a large section in the middle of the performance that acts as a lecture about philosophy that seems to come out of the blue. It is implied that it is reference to a previous Inconvenient Spoof show, but it seems to go over the heads of most audience members. It is a shame, as before and after that section the 45 minute piece rattles along at a good pace, really milking the idea.
It is that dedication to the concept that really pulls the show through. To begin with, it seems the idea may run out of steam very quickly. But the indulgent script keeps going, and pushes forward with the ‘show about making a show’ idea. Every part of the production, from the leaflets, to the script, to even the misleading synopsis of the show that is advertised online, is ‘thought of’ on stage. By the end there are audience members involved, the tech person is talking with the cast members, and even a man that seemed to work for the Marlborough Theatre had a role.
This is also the reason that The Room in the Elephant is not for everyone. It is made for an audience who can appreciate good script writing and an interesting structure. Again, as one of the cast members say, they do run the risk with an idea like this, of “looking like dicks” and sounding “pretentious”. Luckily, the audience seemed to appreciate the show, but a less sympathetic crowd may be harder to keep on board.
So, while not always hilarious, the great concept and solid production makes up for any missteps in The Room in the Elephant. The talent of the cast and crew shines though, and what you get by the end is a fantastically structured, well-crafted comedy show, about making a comedy show.
The Room in the Elephant played at Marlborough Theatre as part of the Brighton Fringe. For more information, see the Brighton Fringe website.