6 August 2006

Dutch Elm Conservatoire In Prison

Last year I wrote, having seen Dutch Elm Conservatoire only briefly during the very poor Perrier Award show, that I didn't think that they should have been nominated for the award. Unlike other people, notably Laura Solon and Jason Manford, it wasn't due to lack of ability or talent, I just felt they didn't fit in to the vague definition of the then Perrier Award. A few months ago Jim Field Smith, a shining star from DEC, sent me an email having read my comments here. After I got over the shock of Jim actually taking the time to email me and get a real feel of what people on the street were saying, rather than kissing up to Fleet Street hacks, we had a brief chat and I concluded with the following thoughts: "Improvisation and breaking the fourth wall seem key to differentiating between a play and a character or sketch show". Jim promised me I'd reconsider my thoughts about his group when I saw them this year for the full hour and I gladly informed him I already had tickets. The date was set and an invitation was even extended to hang around after to meet up (although other shows and the need to eat prevented that, we did meet up the next night). With all that said, it is finally time to get in to my actual review of DEC...

Excellent. Thoroughly enjoyable, very funny and a cert to be back up for the Perrier (now If Comedies) Award this year. The five males who make up DEC play all the parts of this connected comic story about prison and an attempt to escape. It's kind of reminiscent of The Goodies where the stories weren't great but that didn't matter because they just kept you laughing all along. It is definitely not a comedy play. If it was it would get two stars as the dialogue is unbelievable and plot (intentionally) bad. As a character comedy story it is great, from the macho gay warden to the 6' 7" black gangster Furious P, played by smallest member of their all white cast. There are shockingly offensive accents, clever and funny songs and some great political humour. Within the first five minutes they'd ad-libbed, within the first ten minutes they'd broken the fourth wall and during a time passage segment they chatted about the other shows worth seeing in this year's Festival. In short, I was wrong. Jim, you and the journalist who praised you and nominated you last year are right. Four stars out of five and only my third "must see" of this year's Festival. Jim told me the next night that this show is better than last year's one so it's bound to be in the running for the top award this year. In DEC related news, I believe they are in discussion to make a television series and a radio version of last year's hit show too. The only downside is that they are unlikely to be back here next year as a group :-(

[As a final aside, it seems tonight is the night we find out that The Scotsman newspaper employs talentless hacks who wouldn't know good entertainment if it came up and bit them in their arse (a body part they are more used to kissing). Quoting Fiona Shepherd who only gave DEC 2 stars, "[they] explore these elements [of a prison break] through the medium of musical theatre". What utter rubbish! This is character / sketch comedy at its best and just because it uses a couple of songs (Furious P's raps mostly) does not make it musical theatre. The next review has a very interesting story about The Scotsman's inability to judge a show too.]