One could very easily mistake Sübverse, the first sketch show from comedy duo Beef Comedy, as nothing more than a random assortment of wacky sketches, featuring absurd characters doing preposterous things. Indeed, there would be no shame if this was all Sübverse offered – escapist comedy delivered by performers who are simply happy to play for laughs. However, what struck me as particularly impressive about this show, performed by Tommy Hurst and Matt Kenyon, was the incredibly subtle but recurring exploration of male insecurity across the sketches. It was only in the final minutes of the performance that the two drew the strings together and highlighted that so many of these outlandish characters were actually burdened by everyday insecurities and issues.
The show began with Hurst and Kenyon taking on the roles of former rising stars in CBBC who hinted at a scandal which ended their careers in children’s entertainment and led them down a dark road ending at The Wheatsheaf – a weird pub for Oxford w*nkers apparently. The two would return to these roles throughout the show, often to spit venom at Tracey Beaker’s Dani Harmer – the apparent mastermind behind the duo’s fall from grace. Whilst I enjoyed hearing libellous anecdotes about the lecherous and seedy behaviour of CBBC’s Raven and Hacker T Dog, there were points at which these segments felt a little dull, repetitive and lacking in fresh material.
Hurst and Kenyon evidently enjoy keeping audiences on their toes, unsure of what is next to come. Being someone who enjoys live comedy but who breaks out in cold sweats at the mention of audience participation, I cowered in my seat as the duo dragged members of the audience on stage and forced them to play a role in their idea of a perfect party. One unfortunate soul was stuck singing two or three lyrics from ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ in a torturous cycle reminiscent of the punishment of Sisyphus. These sketches, while not to everyone’s tastes, gave many in the audience a great opportunity to laugh at themselves and each other.
Other memorable scenes featured South African slam poets, devious hypnotists, public school rap battlers and mimes forced to play a role in state-sponsored propaganda. The sheer variety of characters who came and went in a matter of seconds behind a canvas sheet really demonstrated the natural quick wit of the performers and the dedication which they must have shown in rehearsals to reach this level of slickness and polish.
The show then came to its conclusion – a musical apology to Dani Harmer (and her legal team) for the allegations made against her earlier in the show. This was initially very funny but made for a somewhat anticlimactic final sketch which dragged on and lacked much of the manic energy which made the earlier sketches so enjoyable. This problem had arisen once or twice earlier in the show but comedy is subjective and it is by no means easy to judge the point at which a sketch has exhausted its material and needs to come to an end.
Overall, this was a strong debut which made effective use of meta-humour, absurd characters and the intimate setting of The Wheatsheaf to deliver lots of laughs and occasional moments of poignancy and reflection.