Review: Earthling, VAULT Festival

Gemma Arrowsmith’s comedy sketch show Earthling is a series of sketches which present the best and the worst of humanity to an objective alien observer.

Arrowsmith is fixated by the events of 1977, when two spacecrafts left earth carrying a record of our planet on golden phonograph records; and she uses this amazing event in aeronautical history to make light of the insanity of humankind.

The show is dense with material and brings together a very diverse set of characters. The primary persona in the show is a TV science presenter who studies the stranger aspects of our species’ behaviour.

Earthling is built around two key questions: ‘What are we really like? Is our planet worth visiting?’ Arrowsmith has made recordings of teenagers giving their own impressions on these questions and it is these recordings, along with Arrowsmith’s obvious passion for the subject, that ultimately give the show a warm and sincere tone. But this tone was frequently at odds with that of other sketches which, in contrast, struck cynical tones.

Arrowsmith’s humour tends to push at the edge of what the audience is comfortable with. Some of this challenging humour works well – such as a weather report predicting mass killings in America. But the show also tends to pick on groups which are too easily targeted – many of whom (such as clean eaters) are really victims themselves. And, as Arrowsmith’s humour tended to focus on the vacuity of some of contemporary culture, it was unfortunately overly-focussed on issues relating to young women. The show wasn’t critical enough of the hypocrisy which leads to this phenomenon to make these sketches feel like intelligent parodies.

Of the other sketches, some were very well observed and enthusiastically received by the audience. The gameshow ‘Win Your Parents’ Lives’ was a favourite, as was the section mocking the increasing insularity of the country post-Brexit. This is Arrowsmith’s humour at its best – using high-concept sketches to take an idea to its extreme. The diversity of the material meant that the show was lively and engaging throughout, but it would have been a sharper show if some of the less incisive material was taken out, and greater attention given to this much stronger material.

Arrowsmith’s particular strength is her ability to perform an amazingly diverse range of characters, using a huge range of accents and voices to do so. Quick transitions between these characters were particularly impressive.

The premise for Earthling is engaging and well researched. Through this format, Arrowsmith offers some witty reflections on contemporary society. Though it does attempt too much in terms of its material, it contains some strong ideas which Arrowsmith’s interesting style of comedy still makes it an enjoyable show.

Earthling played at The Vaults until the 26 February. For more information about Gemma Arrowsmith and her production, see here.

Hattie Pierce

Hattie Pierce

Hattie lives in London and sees as much theatre as there’s time for. As well as reviewing theatre and live art, she is a script reader within film, and reads poetry and prose submissions. She also writes for the stage.