Review: Back To The Excellent Hot Tub Time Machine

Stage

✮✮✮✮✮

First, to get the major disappointments out of the way – there is no hot tub in this show. Nor is there any mention of time travel. This, admittedly, is a bit of letdown. Not even a smidgeon of a Tardis or Back to the Future makes it into the script.

But there are arm bands.

And, once you’re twenty seconds into this one-hour sketch show by energetic comedy group Look and Learn, the title doesn’t even matter.

In fact, it adds to what appears to be the show’s selling charm – not only subverting our expectations (which would make it your average comedy), but keeping us delightfully bewildered (which is what makes it excel). After every sketch, another follows in a completely different vein. One minute we’re invited to watch a Brechtian spoof on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, the next Ray Winstone is mourning the tragic loss of Pitbull on national TV, and somewhere in there we observe Batman’s dysfunctional relationship by way of alcoholism and a semi-musical Spaniard who talks a bit like Puss in Boots. And this is just the tip of the iceberg: some of the real stand-out sketches were the ones which relied on localised humour –  an interview with OUCA and a meeting of “The Oxford Newspaper” (wink, wink) are both hilariously rendered, and garner some of the loudest laughs from the audience.

Despite its breadth and ambition, however, the show never lacks cohesion, probably thanks to an unusual degree of tech sophistication. The projector is an artful touch.  Effectively, there is something in this show for everybody to enjoy, whether a seasoned traveller on the Oxford comedy circuit or an inquisitive novice. Actually, it was so funny, I saw it twice.

There is a reason these boys have been invited to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe – their range of ideas is matched by their own individual performing abilities and “Back To”is a showcase for some truly promising Oxford comic talent. Dan Byam Shaw’s turn as mime artist is an impressively sustained feat of intelligent comedy and yet somehow his take on a “Stereotypical Posh Guy In Glasses” is equally nuanced; Tom Dowling is a study in TV advertising genius, and also a scarily accurate impersonator of Richard Hammond; Oli Johnson-Munday’s starring role in the Tellanovella sketch is fantastically portrayed, with an eyebrow wiggle at the end adding a brilliant flourish (and kudos to the man for soldiering on despite a technical error: his trousers split on Night 2); and Josh Dolphin’s roaring Welsh schoolteacher is uncannily believable.

Together, they are a formidable group, and it’s not difficult to envision them taking the national comedy scene by storm. Quite honestly, train expenses permitting, I’d be more than happy to see them a third time. Tardis / hot tub omission aside.