Live Review: Sketch Off Final 2019, Leicester Square Theatre, WC2

The Leicester Square Theatre’s annual Sketch Off Competition might not have the prestige of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards or the history of London’s New Act of the Year, but it certainly has plenty of talent. This year’s final boasted ten acts. Some very similar, some very different. All - well, maybe nearly all – look like they have bright futures ahead of them in the world of sketch comedy, or as skilfully smutty spoof thespian host Anna Mann called the genre, “willy ticklers”. 

First up was Dave Bibby who immediately injected some energy into the proceedings. It’s not often you get a solo sketch act  but “the Bibster” pulled it off. His first sketch saw him phoning an adult chat line to hear dirty talk about the old Manchester United team. It was an original idea well executed even if the pay-off was weak. His second less successful routine was more character-based as he played a laddish gameshow host getting contestants from the audience to come up with puns based around the word banter. Bibby seems like a bit of a one-man jack of all trades, but he certainly got things off to a promising start.

The second act, Cara Lea and Alex Nash as Yes Mama!, looked more like a conventional sketch team in that they were an odd-looking male/female duo. Things started slowly with an unexpected Louis Theroux impression and then got even weirder as the twosome did a dance to a song before realising the track was on Spotify and they had to accommodate the online ads into their act. They are not the first people to notice the dubious sexism in the lyrics of Summer Loving from Grease but the way they picked holes in the lyrics was superb. They were going to be a tough act to beat and sure enough the judges (including me) chose them as the winners.

The strength of the night continued with female double act Toucan, Emma-Jane Hinds and Shaelee Rooke, who kicked off with a distinctive sketch about a gym class where the moves are inspired by dating behaviour - stretching your arms right out when you love someone, clutching your chest when you feel you’ve committed too soon, etc, etc. But their best sketch, and one of the stand-out pieces of the night. involved the innovative use of a Sainsburys bag for life. It didn’t quite bag them a place in the top three but it certainly suggests they are an act to watch. 

Katie Pritchard bounced onstage next to explain that she was a historian and proceeded to don a budget price toga to deliver a song about the Romans – basically Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ with the lyrics slightly tweaked. A Joan of Arc ditty to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s I Need A Hero was similarly silly and Pritchard certainly pleased the crowd with an act that was hardly sophisticated but not lacking in fun. 

Final act of the first half was the oddity of the night. A character, Papa De Nata, played by James Hartford, who spent most of his time onstage making puns about the crepe he was holding. There sometimes seems to be a thin line between people who are just mucking about onstage and people who have paid money to study clowning under Philippe Gaulier in Paris. Hartford seemed to fall into the former category, but did have something of Dr Brown’s clownish unpredictability about him so maybe there is potential here. 

Review continues here.

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