Reviewed – 23rd January 2019
“Built on the irresistibility and sheer gall of the two contrasting comics they achieve a good degree of buy-in from the audience”
In its maze of neon and graffiti clad theatres and bars spreading like a psychedelic moss beneath Waterloo station, VAULT Festival is the perfect emblem of a London creative culture clinging to any unclaimed surface and proliferating in every crevice. This year the festival reaches new heights of aspiration with digital screens, airport style announcements of performances about to begin and earnest figures with ear pieces and tablets directing the subterranean human traffic. Apocalyptic train sounds and dank smells arguably add to a unique fringe atmosphere, whose spirit and energy come from breakthrough acts, experimental theatre and promising new comedy shows like Fool Britannia, the surreal comedy vehicle of Neil Frost and Dan Lees.
The show opens with Dan Lees in gown and mortar board, standing before a hand-made school lectern (motto: Ludum est fun) delivering a faintly silly start of term address. Neil Frost then appears as a gurning man-child supply teacher, and between them they embark on educating the audience on an utterly nonsensical history of the British Isles. Firstly, they change into cartoon cavemen brandishing inflatable clubs, then Hadrian and his builder (with inflatable hammer), then Vikings, rowing a hand drawn boat with wooden spoons singing ‘We’re Viking’s – and so on. Each period is simplified to nothingness, reaching a peak with Neil Frost as Shakespeare wearing a hand-folded paper ruff simply enjoining the audience to say ‘Shakespeare’. Occasionally they digress for sketches of affable randomness until the whole timeline and premise of the show is abandoned for some more school-based sketches, audience participation and a smattering of improvisation.
Their act is a classic comedy duo blending Pete and Dud with the dodgy props and wild invention of Vic and Bob, plus a suggestion of Lee and Herring and even, for aficionados, The National Theatre of Brent. The difference is that, apart from a Dan Lees ballad about St George and The Dragon, there’s not much sense in this show that any of the sketches have actually been written. It’s more a sequence of first thoughts on the back on an envelope. Sounds terrible? Yes, but the lack of bother, point or preparation is the joke and the Pythonesque method of undermining each premise as soon as it’s established succeeds in keeping the audience engaged, never knowing what to expect and not knowing where any gag is going. Built on the irresistibility and sheer gall of the two contrasting comics they achieve a good degree of buy-in from the audience. In any case, as they breezily acknowledge in asides while sidling around the stage as Vikings, ‘it’s not for everyone’.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography courtesy Mad Etiquette
Part of VAULT Festival 2019