The beauty of sketch comedy is in its variety. Should a particular skit be received badly, it is only moments before it will be replaced by another with a different topic, different characters and quite possibly a different style altogether; there is rarely an observable linking thread between items. Audiences are swiftly taken from piece to piece and thus misses are inevitably swallowed up by hits.
In creating what is essentially a sketch show with a narrative then, three-man comedy group The Awkward Silence have taken a bold step, but one that was undoubtedly worth taking. With The Voyage Of The Narwhal, they have fashioned a series of skits linked by a vague storyline but commendably managed to retain the diversity typical to most sketch shows.
All (or the vast majority) of the scenes are set on the eponymous luxury cruise liner on its doomed maiden voyage. Ralph Jones, Vyvyan Almond and Alexander Fox share a host of imbecilic, eccentric and downright bizarre characters between them, ranging 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 a strange Pterodactyl-like monster.
There is something of Radio 4’s brilliant comedy series Bleak Expectations about The Voyage Of The Narwhal, particularly in Jones’ somewhat nostalgic narration. Plot-line is entirely secondary to comedic content but this is hardly has a detrimental effect. The show’s hectic nature, dynamic style and undeniably entertaining concept mask any depth of narrative.
The three performers are laudably versatile. Almond undoubtedly provides the most laughs. His Captain Grey is memorable, notably for the utterly hilarious story he tells about losing his manhood in an amorous encounter with an iceberg, but his caricature of a blind American showbiz mogul is equally funny. 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.
It is when all three combine, however, that the laughs are loudest and the show at its finest. The trio have obvious chemistry and although their interaction lacked a modicum of slickness, their ability to play off each other, both verbally and physically, more than makes up for this. 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.