Review: Simone's Speaking Service

Image credit: Amelia Oakley

Sometimes, one cannot help but wonder at the propensity that comedy in Cambridge might have to one day morph into an over bloated beast, in danger of collapsing at any moment under the weight of its own hubris. In this metaphor, therefore, John Tothill must be one of its gallant heroes, ready to slay the monster, or indeed any acid-tongued critic foolish enough to sit on the front row, with his highly competent and intimately realised personal brand of comedy. Five hundred words are not enough, and too much, to describe a show that only needs one: Flawless.

Tothill performs with a high level of self-awareness, and capitalises on this to create acutely studied characters who not only function as delightful caricatures of society, but also stand up to further scrutiny. If the eponymous Simone is a religious and neglectful mother, she is also a successful businesswoman, expounding on the joys of “alone time” with a fabulous series of innuendos and puns. Every character created was worthy of greater exploration and further exposition. It was accessible and uproariously funny, while the careful balancing of absurdity with poignancy, unafraid to shrewdly tackle current affairs without letting them take precedence, was inventive and brave. Tothill’s comic timing and attention to the finer details of his craft shows a high level of competence, and this means that even passing comments (or passing for passing comments) were delivered seamlessly – it is impossible to think of the ‘Salvation People’s militia’ or ‘Firearms themed birthday services for the under 7s’ without both grinning and wondering as to the current global social and political climate that give these words their potency.

Personal highlights include the fantastically funny ‘Julian Pringle’. Here, Tothill excels himself with his ability to satirise the world of academia in a way that many students will know and recognise, delivering a lecture on the fluctuating populations of hornets over the long 19th century. Conversely, the ending to the show was bizarrely touching and uplifting. Voiceovers, a device to allow for changes in costume, and projections were used sparingly and successfully, and a moment of audience participation injected a further note of dynamism. If I had to reproach the show one thing, it is that I personally love Cadbury’s Eclairs, and felt that they were the victim of an unwarranted smear campaign at the hands of one elderly female character.

With this show Tothill has cemented his place at the pinnacle of Cantabrigian comedy and it has, I am told, sold out. Therefore, instead of beseeching you all to make your way to the Corpus Playroom to buy a ticket, I ask something a little different, based upon my one regret of the evening... sitting on the front row, notebook nestled in my lap, I didn’t have the nerve to spearhead the standing ovation Tothill deserved. Tonight, I would dearly love it if someone could put that right and show all due respect to the beautiful performance of one of Cambridge’s least pretentious and most talented comedians.


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