The Voyage of The Narwhal

Wed 6th – Sun 24th August 2014

reviews

Fergus Morgan

at 04:47 on 21st Aug 2014

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With The Voyage Of The Narwhal, comedy trio The Awkward Silence have created what is essentially a sketch show with a plot. ‘I mean, there’s nothing quite like it, Babcock!’ repeatedly asserts Vyvyan Almond as the Captain of the show’s eponymous luxury cruise liner. He is referring to the indefinable sense of grand adventure experienced at sea, but the same could equally be said of this thoroughly entertaining and notably original comedy – I mean, there’s nothing quite like it.

The Voyage Of The Narwhal maintains a refreshing sense of focus without losing necessary diversity. The vast majority of the scenes are set on the Narwhal on its doomed maiden voyage, and Ralph Jones, Vyvyan Almond and Alexander Fox share a pleasing variety of imbecilic, eccentric and downright bizarre characters between them. These range from three rugged seamen who sing entirely politically-correct sea shanties (‘What shall we do with a transgender sailor?’) to a trio of vain American ladies who speak solely in banalities; from a mysterious eastern-European scientist to his strange Pterodactyl-like monster companion.

Ralph Jones’ evocatively nostalgic narration is perfect. He uses somewhat bizarre bait-and-switch jokes to enormous effect, delivering them with a delectably deadpan style. On the whole plot-line is entirely secondary to comedic content, but this hardly has a detrimental effect. The show’s hectic nature, dynamic style and undeniably entertaining concept mask any shallowness of narrative.

The three performers are laudably versatile. Almond undoubtedly provides the most laughs. His proud-spoken and straightforward Captain Grey is memorable, notably for the utterly hilarious story he tells about losing his manhood in an amorous encounter with an iceberg. His caricature of a blind American showbiz mogul is similarly amusing. Fox’s portrayal of the ship’s beleaguered stand-up comedian is praiseworthy, although his affected incompetence occasionally seems a little too real, and Jones is amusing as a sex-crazed transatlantic gentlewoman.

There is wonderful chemistry between all three, the result of obvious dedication and hard-work, and this translates well into a slick, professional performance. Perhaps the show’s best sketches are those where all three portray incompetent master criminals, intent on sinking the Narwhal yet simultaneously distracted by its lavish decadence.

The Voyage Of The Narwhal was shortlisted for a BBC Writer’s Prize and such an accolade is wholly deserved. Its variety of mirthful characters, engaging concept, and adept comic performances combine well, creating a thoroughly enjoyable show.

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Jeremy Barclay

at 10:50 on 21st Aug 2014

0agrees

1disagrees

The Voyage of the Narwhal is a loveable collection of naval sketches held together by an over-arching plotline. Performed in the charming (but whiffy) underground venue ‘the Caves’, The Awkward Silence (Ralph Jones, Vyvyan Almond, Alexander Fox) offer a harmless hour of fourth wall teasing fun.

The trio are immediately charismatic: whilst their story is one we have all heard before - a huge cruise liner meets unexpected troubles on a voyage to America – it is narrated with flair, using flashbacks and cutaways to such great effect that one could be fooled into thinking this is a TV show on stage. Unfortunately, from the very start, there is the sense that their sketches are not completely refined, occasionally running the show aground. In particular, a recurring sketch about an old man and his monstrous creation, Alasdair, who speaks only in unintelligible yelps, rarely deserves the attention the trio afford it.

Alasdair proves that there are two sides to each coin, as the majority of these sketches are delightfully clever. The trio have a real knack for nonsense. In one recurring sketch, the trio play sailors singing politically correct sea shanties. While this sounds at first a little tame, ‘What Shall We Do With the Transgender Sailor’ is at once tongue-in-cheek but oddly satirical.

Unfortunately, the biggest laughs does not come from the trio’s more original material such as this, but from material that feels somewhat recycled from comedy giants like Blackadder. Specifically, a crowd-pleasing sketch about the Captain’s relationship with his right hand man, Babcock, absolutely smacks of Blackadder’s Melchett and Darling sketches. This kind of unoriginality seems inexcusable when the trio often prove throughout the show that they are capable of some inspired sketches.

Strong performances come from all members of the cast. Almond channels a mid-career Rowan Atkinson while Fox gives at times an over-zealous performance, slamming his foot thunderously against the stage to punctuate his punchlines. Fox’s eagerness is admirable, but at times a little overwhelming and out of place.

Ultimately, The Awkward Silence are a comedy trio who have not yet reached their final form. Although they entertain a crowd with ease, they do so by relying too much on material which has been circulating in social consciousness for a long time. This will leave audiences satisfied but with the knowledge that what they saw was really very good whilst not as refreshing or edgy as it could be.

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Comments

Ken Jones; 21st Aug 2014; 11:40:02

Jeremy Barclay please note: the correct names of the performers are Ralph Jones (not Joe Turner), Vyvyan Almond and Alex Fox. If you're going to write an ungenerous review you should at least get basic facts right.

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