Bar 50, 18 – 28 August 2010
Reviewed for the Oxford Times
Please, Not the Face is part of this year’s PBH’s Free Fringe, one of the two largest producers of free festival shows. The typical Free Fringe act takes place in a poky room at the back of a dingy pub, with dodgy sound and lighting equipment and a crowd who haven’t paid, and so feel no obligation to give the act an easy ride.
Twist-Head Productions — named after the sketch show they performed at the Fringe last year — are fortunate to have secured themselves an atypical Free Fringe venue. It is at the back of a bar, but an upmarket one, with ample comfortable seating and a sound system that works. This is just as well, because the show relies on sound effects and short snippets of recognisable tunes to clue the audience in on the setting of each new sketch.
The young company, which includes Headington-born writer-performer Owen Hughes, have mastered step one of performing Fringe comedy, which is to be shameless. Not one of the five performers appears bashful even when performing scatological or sexually explicit material (of which there is a glut in this show).
They’ve also dreamed up a good few promisingly absurd concepts, such as a Pied Piper who can’t connect with today’s youth and a surprise trading standards inspection of Sweeney Todd’s barbershop.
Disappointingly, the company fails to capitalise on these imaginative settings. They seem to assume that as long as the set-up is absurd enough, mere swear words and sexual references transform alchemically into punchlines.
The Free Fringe audience, many of whom have simply wandered in from the bar for lack of anything better to do, is not that easily pleased. What little laughter Please, Not the Face generates is not even audible over the hubbub of the Wednesday night bar crowd beyond the curtain.