If tonight’s Monster, the first of the new year, is a mark of quality for their future shows then heaven help the organiser and acts that have to follow such a fantastic start. The evening’s given a rip-roaring opening by MC Naz Osmanoglu, a member of sketch boffins Wittank and a solo performer rapidly establishing himself as a name to remember (for several obvious reasons). At ease with the audience, he’s in an infectiously giddy mood and urges various audience members to ‘make up’ occupations to ensure the evening’s MC/crowd banter never drops below a healthy level of ridiculousness.
First on the bill are the duo of Max Dickins and Mark Smith a.k.a. Dregs. Their opening interplay gets the crowd onside instantly before they launch into a trio of sketches. There are plenty of laughs to be had in all three, plus one or two uneasy moments (the wincing during the Synchronised Swimmers routine was very audible). It’s clear some of their writing is still finding its feet but there’s potential for something very strong to come from this young pair.
New arrival to the UK circuit, Canadian Mae Martin gives, in comparison to the night’s supercharged sketch action, a very gentle performance. ‘Gentle’ is a label that usually suggests a likeability if not necessarily an ability to crack up an audience. The former may be true the latter certainly isn’t. Embracing her inner geek she runs through her loves of Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer before topping it all off with a creepy song about an ex-teacher.
Nick Mohammed expertly sets up a new character based on his ‘landlady’. The nuances of this dotty, easily-distracted older woman are superbly observed. Surely one of the UK’s best character comics, to watch Nick Mohammed on stage always makes you wonder why he isn’t on TV more often.
Osmanoglu starts the second half off with the unusual task of having to introduce himself alongside his Wittank cohorts (pictured). Their fresh faces belie the fact that – over the few years they’ve been performing – the three have developed and honed their craft perfectly. Bombarding us with vivid, inventive and messy sketches, they also possess a knack for improvisation that only comes from confidence in your material and in your audience. Everything aligns for them tonight and they fully deserve the rapturous reception the crowd gives them.
Given the state that Wittank have left the audience (and the stage) in, Totally Tom would have had to let off a volley of fireworks to keep the energy up. That this doesn’t happen takes nothing away from their performance. Like Dregs, their trio of sketches are daft and show the potential that earned them a Channel 4 Comedy Lab slot late last year.
While Totally Tom and Dregs may be the up-and-comers of the sketch world, headline act Pajama Men have rightly staked a claim as one of the best in the business. To call their performance purely sketch would almost be doing it a disservice. This is madcap physical theatre at its finest and I feel slightly ashamed having not seen them sooner. Accents and character attributes are perfectly pinpointed and each sketch is knitted together through an interconnected, but always surprising, narrative. Along the way we meet housewives, adventurers, grizzled old men, marionettes and a tropical bird with a rather unique call. Between them they have the kind of comic ingenuity that only a few possess and to see this in a small, club environment like this feels like an honour.
Originally published at www.spoonfed.co.uk