Velvet Trumpet brought its fifth edition of Soggy Brass to Southwark Playhouse to showcase potential new talent in comedy writing. Six writers presented their comedic talents on the stage in front of a surprisingly packed audience, in an opportunity to try out new short works, build a profile and effectively gauge audience reactions (since this audience were particularly lively). The productions themselves were chosen by Artistic Director Nikolai Ribnikov and Managing Director Thomas Jones and included both monologues and standalone sketch pieces as well as more typical sitcom-like works, all ranging from slapstick to downright shocking.
The show ended with one of the directors’ own creations. Burying A Stranger, delivered by Catherine Thorncombe, captured the maudlin essence of a bleak funeral in a broken family. Thorncombe spoke so quietly at times that the audience collectively leaned forward, straining to hear her. An emotionless, deadpan delivery told of the carnage surrounding Granddad’s funeral with a dry wit and apathetic tone. Thorncombe kept focus well, her character channelling a morbid combination of Gaving & Stacey’s Nessa and Winnie The Pooh’s Eeyore.
The other two monologues were similarly varied, if not altogether a bit macabre. Irn Pru saw Jennifer O’Neill march onto stage wearing a Viking helmet, “I suggest yae line up now and pay yae respects”. O’Neill told of her experience trying to find work after being forced out of her catering job by the new Waitrose that opened up down the road. Spurred on by Scottish entrepreneur Baroness Mone, she marched around stage with increasing anger, which sometimes detracted from the delivery but overall provided the key comedic punches in Andrew Maddock’s writing.
Natasha Sutton-Williams’ self-acted monologue was something altogether different. “I never thought of clowns as particularly sexual”… Clown Sex describes a nighttime sexual encounter between Gary and an overweight clown-cum-prostitute named Cuckoo. Delivered in fairly graphic detail, Sutton-Williams aimed (and succeeded) in shocking the audience as she described the encounter in question. A high-pitched voice and strained expression brought Cuckoo to life as she waddled across stage towards the audience, who could be seen visibly recoiling in horror and laughing out of shock at the material. Each simile in the description of the encounter was cleverly chosen to maximise further outrage and capitalise on the audience’s previous reactions. This piece aimed to shock and hit its mark head on.
The other comedy pieces were delivered in groups with less success overall. Fragile (by Georgia Coles-Riley), a duologue between fiancés about their lukewarm affection for each other, was similarly lukewarm in its delivery. Close Me (by Dave Florez), a sitcom set in a sales office between two employees on closing a deal, was amusing but unoriginal. Delivered in a slightly amateur fashion, the jokes weren’t capitalised to the full.
The success of the group performances was undoubtedly Ruddington, a series of strange encounters set in a fictional town. Matthew Cosgrove & James Veitch wrote in a Little Britain style – off the wall and slightly out of the audience’s comfort zone. Together with fellow actor Sammy Moreno, the multiple character interpretations showed a level of comedic skill throughout. Veitch sat awkwardly at the piano, staring out through oversized glasses whilst Cosgrove and Moreno re-enacted scenes like psychiatrist and Mexican patient, or fake mechanic and friend possessed by old woman. The delivery was as strange as the premise, but the group dynamic was well balanced and the comic timing spot on.
The showcase presented a great opportunity and gave mixed results. But that is only to be expected; with new aspiring writers trying to hone their styles, there are inevitably going to be some experiments that work and some that fall short.
Soggy Brass played Southwark Playhouse on 11 October. For more information and tickets to future showcases, see the Velvet Trumpet website.