A Joke ****

Theatre (Comedy, new writing)

theSpace  on Niddry Street

till Aug 26th

13.55

There has been in recent years a growing presence of comedy on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to the point where that strand outweighs all others, drama, dance, spoken word, children’s shows; for a celebration designed to showcase the broad variety of entertainments beyond the high art of the International Festival, opera and ballet and the classics, for any one theme to marginalise the others, would that be considered – a joke?

Is A Joke a comedy? Certainly, for it is funny. Is A Joke a drama? Possibly, and certainly it is wonderfully performed and aware of not only itself but the heritage which has led to its questioning existence, as three men – Richard Oliver, Sylvester McCoy and Robert Picardo – are brought one by one into the bare room, dressed in matching nightshirts and white knitted caps, none able to offer further insight on their situation to their fellows.

“You have a loud sense of entitlement,” McCoy’s jolly wanderer tells his more skittish predecessor Oliver. “Are you English?” McCoy finding himself lapsing occasionally into the verbage of a stereotypical Irishman, that leaves Picardo’s late arrival to claim an ancestry to Scotland so tenuous he is immediately mocked and told it doesn’t count: “It does if you’re American,” he counters.

Written and directed by Dan Freeman who sits by the stage to provide musical accompaniment, the play evolves as it examines the different kind of jokes which these three confused gentlemen might be a part of in their quest for meaning, an absurdist banter of dissociative dialogue driven equally by Picardo’s inability to take himself seriously and McCoy’s wonderful expressions.

Together the three consider the form of a joke, the surprise of confounded expectation which it entails, but Oliver’s Englishman overanalyses, criticising and dissecting, demanding humour but having no sense of it himself, his disgruntlement peaking during a musical interlude through which Picardo and McCoy vocalise and joyfully clown about as he vocally objects.

Beyond the standard Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman and its variations of where they might be going, walking into a bar or travelling on a plane, through knock, knock and ambulatory poultry, wordplay and endless puns to knockabout physical humour, the settings they imagine themselves in are created by mime while the constant movement of the cast ensures that despite being performed “in the round” with audience on all four sides of the stage there is not a bad seat in the house.

In telling a joke timing is everything and these three are impeccable, but with a limited run and tickets selling fast this rare chance to see two performers more associated with film and television, the former lead of Doctor Who and the former Holographic Doctor of Star Trek Voyager, share the stage together in an intimate venue will not last long; he who laughs last still needs to be on cue to hear the punchline.

Michael Flett