Cul-De-Sac, the first play from stand-up comic Matthew Osborn is not the sort of show you’d usually expect to see at Theatre503. Plumbing the darker depths of suburbia, this is a snappy satire on leafy Home Counties living. Tightly written, sharply witty and unremittingly black humoured, Cul-De-Sac is not everyone’s cup of tea, but is an entertaining evening.
Cul-De-Sac’s three-man cast is made up of Julian Dutton (Dr. Cole), Alan Francis (Tim) and Mike Hayley (Nigel), all – like writer Matthew Osborn – experienced stand-ups and comic writers. It’s a strong cast, and the trio handle the style with alacrity and energy. This is a show that teaches you how to watch it, and once the mind has adjusted to the quick-fire, absurd dialogue, it is, at its best, sparkling comedy.
However, the sharp, slick quality of this show is also part of the reason why it didn’t wholly do it for me. Cul-De-Sac is described by ThreeWeeks as “Alan Bennett meets The League of Gentlemen“: in some ways an accurate epithet, but this show lacks any of Bennett’s heart, warmth or depth of emotion. This is more a series of sketches with a neat, reflexive plot than a play. When Tim discovers his dog has been kicked to death by his neighbour Nigel, he is largely unmoved. Later in the play, even once we have become accustomed to the lack of emotional engagement, it comes as something of a surprise that Tim is angry rather than moved or saddened by the disintegration of his family.
That said, Cul-De-Sac is clearly not trying or pretending to be a naturalistic analysis of neighbourly relationships. Osborn’s glib handling of the gradual destruction of his protagonist, and his characters’ flippant reactions to diabolical circumstance, generate many of the best laughs of the piece. Gags abound, and the excruciating darkness of the plot was enough to keep me gripped, to a point. Alan Francis’s Tim spends one scene tied up and seduced by his doctor, and Mike Hayley’s Nigel’s grim relaxation method is deliciously skin-crawling. This is greatly enhanced throughout by Nick Pynn’s masterful musical underscore, helping to ramp up the tension.
Overall, if you like dark comedy without too much weight behind it, this is certainly worth seeing. There are some genuinely brilliant jokes in there and the commitment of the company makes up for occasionally slap-dash moments. A few scene changes are too long, enhancing the sketch-show feel of the whole evening.
Cul-De-Sac is entertaining, sharp and sparkling like a pair of newly polished pruning shears, and provides a diverting evening of classically British black comedy. Just don’t expect to be moved.
Cul-de-sac runs at Theatre 503 until 5 January. For more information and tickets see the Theatre503 website.