The Voyage of The Narwhal
The Awkward Silence
Dir. Nick Jones
Edinburgh Fringe 2014
One of the best things about sketch comedy is how far groups can take the format and over the past few years, the Edinburgh Fringe has seen sketch groups begin to take this format to another level. For me, the best, and hardest to pull off, is the long form sketch show. This has elements of theatre that require a group to have tight writing that links their sketches almost seamlessly. Any lulls can ruin the whole thing so great care has to be given to their structure, delivery and interaction between them and the audience.
Coming onboard The Narwhal’s last voyage of the summer the audience is greeted with great gusto by Captain Grey, Vyvyan Almond. Standing behind the audience as they begin to take their seats from the offset The Voyage of The Narwhal was bound to be an experience that once it started there was little one could do but look on in amazement.
Captain Grey is not your average captain he is a man who speaks his mind and has a thing or two to say about Icebergs - imagine if Captain Ahab wasn't searching for Moby Dick but rather an iceberg with a pretty delicate keepsake. He’s joined on the maiden voyage of the Narwhal by his trusty number two Babcock, Alexander Fox, and rounding off this adventure is our narrator a young man who just has to get on this ship, Ralph Jones.
From a trio of Texan socialites, the ships zookeeper - who might have overestimated how many Raccoons may have been needed - and an American old-time showbiz agent with a talent for spotting the talentless, to Fox’s brilliantly bad, stand up comic and a series of politically correct sea shanties the Narwhal has it all.
The trios scene and costume changes are quick and never leave the audience waiting and their writing is smart and it is clear their intention was to create a unique style of sketch show that would stand out in a fringe pack. This is best illustrated by Alasdair & Jones, who is a grotesque creature who has been disallowed to join his master onboard the Narwhal due to eating his ticket so reluctantly he is let out of his cage and freed.
Over the next hour news continues to come into Alasdair culminating in a news report from Downing Street. Each of these reports is subtle and the last one is completely unexpected which provides the audience with an interesting insight into how this group work. Alasdair is a big character - from the way he looked and stood to the noise he made - yet he would have lost his impact if he had remained visible in the show. So by having him continue in the show through news reports meant they got the best of both worlds whilst not having to sacrifice a great character.
This is true for all their characters and the balance they created was something original altogether. The show is held tightly by a farcical central storyline that one does not even try to figure out, and they are aided by a series of recurring characters and the ship's announcements.
The Voyage of the Narwhal is The Awkward Silence debut fringe show and it is rare to see a debut that is as strong as this. Their chemistry is wonderful to watch and this closeness gives their show and added boost. Clearly, the writing and performing is a huge passion for them but their biggest asset was willing to have David Quantick work on their script. Having Quantick edit their script says a lot about The Awkward Silence as too few sketch groups (or theatre companies for that matter) pass their scripts to a fresh pair of eyes. Director Nick Davies keeps the action moving with a manic ease and live music from David McHardy gives the show added depth.
'The Awkward Silence has created one of this year's best sketch comedy shows.'
British comedy is steeped in traditions and many great sketch groups have forged lustrous careers from their start at the fringe. The Awkward Silence is aware of the footsteps they are walking in and have created a show that maintains the best of what makes British comedy sketch show so great. Its unique and silliness, the random and ever so slightly dark style always creates something original.
With pinches and nods here and there which underpins some of their influences with The Voyage of the Narwhal, The Awkward Silence has created one of this year's best sketch comedy shows.