On the Burton Taylor Studio Programme, Failure – And How to Achieve It has the following summary “A fast-paced two-man comedy from members of the Oxford Revue. As two pastry chefs search for the perfect marriage of sponge and frosting, we find out why losing is the new winning.” I’ll be honest, there’s no sign of that story but the comedy definitely is ‘fast paced’. Characters, scenes and settings are quickly established and then recur throughout the performance – or at least they will, if Nick Davies and Max Fletcher aren’t feeding the press a pack of lies. After all, those pastry chefs are nowhere to be found…
However, the fact that the pair have abandoned their show description in spectacular fashion works more in their favour than against them. There is a feeling across the whole piece that nothing acts as filler – each joke is carefully built up, sometimes across a couple of mediums or scenes, for a big payoff, the biggest of which, cruelly withheld in the preview, promises to end the show with a big laugh, if the lead up is anything to go by.
This isn’t a Revue show, but it does have some of Oxford’s best known comedians behind it, with Sophie Klimt directing and Adam Lebovits the (reluctant) producer. The show doesn’t suffer, however, from paring down the actors. Fletcher and Davies are brilliant together, a charismatic pair and though both Revue regulars, they work very well away from the troupe. The two of them deliver a staggering variety of sketches with aplomb, and their own enjoyment is infectious. There were points where I felt they could have cast aside all pretence of drama and read the telephone book with equal comic timing, charm, and energy. Fletcher’s pirate act moves between sweetly sensitive and unmistakably hilarious, while Davies can bring about guffaws of laughter without opening his mouth.
With two weeks to go, there are still a lot of corners that need polishing, and that’s where a star or two is lost. Forgetting the line “Our show will be better than his” seems like a bad omen, and almost makes me wish I could write a clever negative review about self-prophesied doom. The fact that I can’t speaks volumes about the humour evident in every other line, though occasionally the conversational asides when something went wrong had me laughing harder than the sketches themselves. I also worry the show could take a dark turn if Fletcher chokes on the cake he spent some time corpsing on during one sketch.
Over the course of the preview I’m assured many times that the lighting and spacial technicalities of the BT will make scene transitions a lot clearer, though the obvious changes in character and situation are certainly acted sufficiently well to make them clear even to my simple brain. Indeed, having seen sketches performed so sparsely, I can’t help be thrilled at the prospect of a show that promises to “transcend the boundaries of the theatre” (but not in a wanky way, just a dickish one. Direct quote, I kid you not). If you have a sense of humour, or can appreciate two very funny men on stage for any reason, Failure – And How To Achieve It will suit you well.