Whatever I expect to see when I arrive at Katie Norris and Sinead Parker’s comedy show, I can safely say that Burn the Witch is not it. One part satirical, one park folklore, three parts filthy, this late-night comic sketch show is a cauldron of cackling laughter.
What Norris and Parker have done with this show, is take a long form narrative and partition it off into sketches. It becomes part theatre, part classic sketch work. Behind the layers and layers of dirty jokes is a beating heart that represents the best of old reliable British humour. The irreverent content is, in a way, simply a cover for comic conventions that have been the scaffold to many a double act before them. They do not shy away from subverting the old stock character. Parker’s old nightclub singer, Jean Finger, might have flitted across the screen in the late 80s in Victoria Wood’s As Seen On TV, though the BBC may not have been happy with Wood using the language that Parker gets away with later in the show.
To reduce Burn the Witch to simply filth, however, would be over simplistic and, while its quickfire innuendos are the lines you will quote to your friends once the curtain comes down, this show has much more to offer. It is, at times, political. A careful satirical edge is tread. The dark jokes about Brexit, sex politics and the hypocrisies of pop news outlets manage to be cutting without offending any given social group. The filth is very clever, it masks the show’s more cerebral underpinnings with pussy jokes and toilet humour.
It would also be all too easy to nit-pick about Norris, Parker and their keyboard player cum-straight man Huge Davies breaking character. The pieces of audience interaction and local references that draw in the audience are occasionally accompanied by spates of laughter from the three performers. Yet, this does not detract from the performance. Already the show is centred around the idea that the three of them know very well they are in a play. Never are we asked to believe they are anything other than performers. The small stumbles into laughter only serve to flesh out the meta narrative, draw the audience further into Norris and Parker’s theatrical world, and prompt all of us to laugh more than we would have otherwise.
A special mention must be given to Davies, who performs the supporting part of accompanist and werewolf. He provides the show pacing, his deadpan performance adding tone to the outrageous characterisation of his castmates. While Burn the Witch is undoubtedly Norris and Parker’s show, he holds his own and produces a truly uproarious performance himself.
Burn the Witch is wickedly funny and raucously entertaining. It is a daring and inventive take on the comedy double act and sketch comedy in general. Managing to be enthralling and hilarious, Norris and Parker make sixty tight minutes feel like ten.
Burn the Witch is currently touring the UK. For more information, visit the Norris and Parker website.