Review: Diphthong

Sophie Dickinson 3 November 2016
Image credit: Rob Eager and Colin Rothwell

The ADC was bustling for Diphthong, the curiously named comedy lateshow written by Haydn Jenkins, Ruby Keane, Luisa Callander, and Mark Bittlestone. The four were a compelling on-stage presence, the faux-tension and diverse comedic range making this a well-polished sketch show.

Therein, actually, lay the brilliance of the show. For the most part, this was a rather typical affair: sketches set in an aeroplane, or the zoo, were punctuated by exchanges between the four comics. Whilst these felt contrived at times, they allowed all four individuals to interact with the audience; no one person obviously dominated. These quite regular sketch scenes were improved exponentially by Keane and Callander’s injection of surrealism: the audience will never hear the phrase ‘the old grind’, for example, in the same way again. It is hard to write about comedy without spoiling the necessary reveal, but a striptease with a visceral edge, and the utterly insane ‘work experience with Mr Chicken’ sketches were ingenious.

The four tended to work as a pair of double acts, which allowed the show to remain fresh, and still surprising, until the end – an hour long sketch show with all four constantly onstage may have become a tad predictable. About half way through this dynamic changes, and because of Jenkins’s apparent artistic selfishness, the pairs change. This sort of narrative movement grated slightly: the act was at its best during the sketches, not within these moments of conflict, and it's obvious the four are not actors. However, once this initial awkwardness was over, the sketches took on a new, amusing edge, and the audience clearly enjoyed the change. The wry (and always slightly eccentric) exchanges between Keane and Callander, for example, were deeply amusing. Lines commenting on the former's height and accent were deeply amusing if only in their success at mocking the way audience members talk about a show.

The faux-tension surrounding Jenkins’s lines seemed to point towards something actually true. Whilst all four comedians were wonderfully polished, he was the runaway performer. Of course, it is hard to know whether this was due to the quality of writing, or the flexibility of the material written. Nonetheless, in scenes such as the recurrent (and indeed refreshing) speed dating sequence, his characters were far and away the most entertaining.

Diphthong, then, was a wonderfully irreverent performance. The combination of surrealism and straight humour with changing onstage harmony and discord created a thoroughly enjoyable Tuesday night. Remarkably for a sketch show, almost everything was met with a laugh from the audience, which often broke into hysterics. The sketch about the ADC manager might feel a bit exclusionary for some (relying on knowledge of the theatre’s bureaucracy felt slightly unfair), but apart from this, the show is a raucous and entertaining night out.