“Terrible pun, terribly funny play” promises the poster for Ice Scream… Scoop! But the terrible puns go on throughout the show and, sadly, with not even enough self-deprecating wit to make them “so bad it’s funny.”
ISS, a new comic play by recent Cambridge graduate and former Alcock Improv stalwart Tom Hensby, traces the story of Tenzing White (David Walton), a news reporter for a tedious provincial publication specialising in stories about village fêtes and photos of smiling children “standing next to… anything.” But as Tenzing interviews colourful local characters about their tedious lives, the action itself becomes tedious. As the story’s hero, Tenzing needs far more depth. Though Walton is clearly an able actor, the script gives him little to work with, and he is permanently the straightest of straight men.
Ed Rowett gives a charismatic performance as Jack the Hack, Tenzing’s rival, and occasionally his timing and presence starts to make up for the threadbare script. But given that this is not a play which tries to engage us on any meaningful emotional level, and in which we know little to nothing about the main character and as a result don’t care much about him, the only thing left to hold our attention are the jokes. Fair enough in theory, but there just weren’t enough big laughs. The best moments could have been pared down to make excellent sketches. Mark Corbin is very funny, playing the mild-mannered PE teacher, whose response to a child being stabbed in the eye with a pencil is to let the two perpetrators fight it out and hope a kind of natural justice emerges. The epilogue, in which the winner of the hole-digging contest begs to swap his champagne prize for a ladder, is amusing. But neither Tenzing, nor his story are interesting enough to tie together an entire play, and though there’s a climax to the plot somewhere, blink and you’ll miss it.
The humour relies on silliness but even where the script might have succeeded, none except Rowett perform with the energy required to pull off this style. (And in the meantime, pun after pun after pun…) Rowett succeeds because his character, though stock, is clearly-drawn and comically overblown. The rest however are chronically under-developed, from the perspectives of both writing and acting/direction. ISS doesn’t set out to be anything other than a silly comedy but unfortunately, it’s just not that funny.