“Tonight on Radio 4, the plot thickens in…The Allotment Mysteries.” Erudite wordplay and clever phrasing characterises Jackson and Grumitt’s brand new sketch show at the Burton Taylor.
Their selection of sketches ranges from the surreal to the observational, with sinister BBC2 adverts, meetings of MI6 in a Starbucks and a haughty Michelin star waiter selling a £46 jug of tap water all making an appearance.
However, whilst some of its content is smart and witty, the show somewhat misses the mark in terms of both performance and technical production. First off, with an understandably minimal set of a couple of chairs and a table for quick scene changes, the show could have retained some of its energy between sketches with a more extensive soundtrack. Instead, they lost much of this to the slightly awkward scuffling of chairs and feet over the dregs of audience laughter from the previous sketch.
Energy was another problem for the show. Olly Jackson and Richard Grummit possessed a certain degree of enthusiasm for their own material, and had good stage presence and comic timing, with Jackson in particular astutely assessing how long to let his various asides hang for. However, the supporting cast played their various roles of spies, therapists and patients with a painfully rehearsed lack of comic timing.
Admittedly sometimes this was the fault of the writing, for, whilst there were a lot of potentially funny ideas, sometimes sketches were drawn out a few minutes too long with too much emphasis on the absurdity of a joke made through the comedy of patronising the audience or of repetition. As a result, sketches often peaked long before they ended, leaving the conclusions of each short sketch uncomfortable and unclear.
That being said, there is definitely potential in the writing to really pop as the cast gain in confidence and better gauge how to pace their show. What is lacking in comic performances is mitigated by a smart script, with Jackson and Grummit’s clear intelligence and multiple references shining through occasionally flaccid sketches. Jackson’s pithy explanation of the difference between ‘hung’ and ‘hanged’ midway through being told he is to be executed stands out here.
Planet Marmalade, then, is certainly not a polished sketch show, but as an example of witty and erudite writing, it is worth a watch, and its broad array of comic styles belies an impressive command of the material.
Planet Marmalade plays at the Burton Taylor Studio until Saturday 6th December.