After a run at the Fringe, William Bicknell-Found’s ‘Meddlin’ Kids’ has come to the Corpus Playroom for Week 3.
The show opened with all the familiar elements of an episode of Scooby-Doo – a man in a sheet, an elaborate plan, lost glasses, “I would have gotten away with it too . . .” – but shortly after the real action was established fairly quickly. Meddlin’ Kids, a Saturday morning staple, has been cancelled, leaving its cast at a loss. But before they can spend too much time wallowing in self-pity or dreaming of the future, their director is seemingly kidnapped by a ghost and the ‘gang’ are forced to solve an actual mystery. The opening setup is fairly effective at setting the audience’s expectations and even in getting a few laughs: the cardboard ghost with ‘wrong way round’ written on the back, for example, had everyone chuckling.
The characters all share names with the characters they played in the show-within-a-show (I was unsure whether this was supposed to be a joke or not).
Despite this, however, none are just parodies of their inspirations, but original characters with their own traits; this distance gives the writer and cast room to play with our, and the characters’, presuppositions. Exploiting Daphne’s well-known ineffectual damsel-in-distress characterisation, Katie Devey plays ‘Darcy’ with a massive inferiority complex, to effective results. Likewise, Josh Loyd’s ‘Frank’ (Fred) has, perhaps contrary to expectations, no leadership skills and no intelligence, at one point sitting the action out at the side of the stage because he can’t figure out what’s going on around him. Each cast member had some material to work with, and utilised it well – none of the characters were exactly fully developed and human, but nobody required them to be, and enough characterisation came through for it to be effective.
My main bone to pick was that, at times, Meddlin’ Kids seemed as if it couldn’t decide whether it was a comedy-mystery play with an overarching plot driving the action, or a loose collection of sketches and improv bits tied together with a vague Scooby-Doo theme.
There were some scenes which, while undoubtedly funny, did not fit into the overarching plot at all, and during these there was no clear direction the play was heading in. This wouldn’t have been a problem if this were just a Scooby-Doo themed sketch show; but when united with the overarching plot, the impression was one of a play trying to have its cake and eat it. And the improv, disappointingly, was sometimes awkward or character-breaking: a brief scene in which two characters made rambling, disjointed conversation while (ostensibly) being pursued by a haunted painting was perhaps the show’s low point.
In spite of all this, however, there were undoubtedly more hits than misses, and the show was very funny. Some of the best jokes were given to Dan Bishop’s ‘Humpy’ (Shaggy): a running gag involving the catchphrase ‘Zoinks!’ was developed and resolved brilliantly, and a physical joke about ‘reversing’ out of a mistake was a surprise hit that got some of the biggest laughs of the night.
The rest of the cast got their fair share of laughs too, especially the two multi-role actors: Harry Balden was appropriately over-the-top as the sinister butler, and Agnelle Groombridge’s turn as ‘Norman the Doorman’ was incredibly silly but pulled off very well. It would seem that Jade Franks as ‘Veruca’ (Velma) was a late addition to the show, but you wouldn’t have known from the confidence she had on stage: she pulled off her part with assurance.
Ultimately, Meddlin’ Kids needed to be surer of itself, both in terms of cast confidence with the material and writer confidence with the nature of the play. But as it is, it is a funny and interesting show, and if you need a break from work it’s worth going to see.
E. N. – Although these publicity images depict Mariam Abdel-Razek as ‘Veruca’, this role was performed in the Cambridge run by Jade Franks. Unfortunately, I am not good enough at Photoshop to edit her in.
What did you think of the performance? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Letter to the Editor’!