If you like your sight gags simple and stunning, your laughs loud and your submarines, well, essentially non-existent, then The Submarine Show is one to watch. Slick and often surprisingly subversive visual comedy abounds in this silly and entirely loveable piece from American duo Slater Penney and Jaron Hollander. A deceptively simple premise allows for the reign of utter chaos as two rather useless but nevertheless hilarious mariners crash their submarine and are let loose in an unknown territory, dragging the audience along with them on a fast and frantic journey from ocean bed to rainforest floor with plenty of madcap stop-offs in between.
Penney and Hollander’s proficiency at producing a startlingly diverse range of sound effects, from the particular pop of a pen-lid to the dull thunk of an axe blade in wood, is more than enough of an incentive to see this piece. To help us along, there is some quick and clever character development with Hollander as the miniature macho-man and Penney as the cowardly first mate with some curiously defective waterworks.
Stretching the limits of believability is central to The Submarine Show and the results are admirable – with no set, almost no recorded sound and despite some utterly fantastical goings on, the pair manage to keep us involved in even the most minute of their actions, ensuring the detail and accuracy of their work gets the laughs it deserves. A generous measure of audience participation ensures our investment – Hollander hacks through the auditorium as if we’re a forest, uses the hands of front row to stopper leaks and encourages us at various points, when things get almost too wild, to put on our oxygen masks and calm down.
What makes The Submarine Show so endearing is that daring physical feats and fiercely impressive clowning routines are played out without a touch of overdone showmanship. Penney and Hollander are as keen to send themselves up as anyone else, often creating entirely new jokes from the very absurdity of their own set-up. There is sardonic subtlety as well as slapstick, and whilst it was lovely to hear the gurgle of children’s laughter, there are plenty of jokes for adults too. At times, Slater and Penney probably have a bit too much fun with their own material, resulting in dips in attention as some gags amble on towards self-indulgence and the audience loses track, but there is an unrelenting enthusiasm and sheer love of laughter here that renders The Submarine Show, in the end, almost impossible to resist.
**** – 4/5 stars
The Submarine Show played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.