Odds and Ends
ADC Lateshow, 11pm, until Sat 17th March
Not having seen an ADC comedy before, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the successful hit-rate of jokes in Joey Batey’s prizewinning Odds and Ends. It is set in a PoW camp in an unnamed country; the ambiguity is a wise choice, as it therefore makes little attempt at political commentary and instead explores an answer to the question: What would you do with merely hours left to live?
Although this question is no doubt an interesting one, it has been covered many times before, and last night’s play brought nothing novel to the thematic table. Indeed, Batey and co. seem to have been ingesting rather heavy doses of Blackadder Goes Forth: the central concept and setting, for one thing, seem cribbed from Curtis and Elton’s comedy. Moreover, Private Dan is essentially a reflection of Hugh Laurie’s character, Private George (which, for me, gave an extra resonance to his wail, “I forgot to record House!”).
However, I can’t complain about the comedic possibilities all this offers, especially given Alex Gomar’s performance as Dan: his delivery, and the naturalistic idiosyncrasies of his gait and his facial expression, contributed to such an effective portrayal of a man-child that were he not studying at Cambridge, I would fear for the solitude of his seemingly few brain cells. It takes an intelligent and talented actor indeed to live up to Laurie, and consciously or not, Gomar steps up to the plate impeccably, encapsulating the irony of the least intelligent soldier being the most likely to cope relatively well with the war. Jennie King was good in an unexpected role that makes perfect casting sense (I won’t ruin it for you here); undoubtedly, she gets all the best lines. Sadly, her character isn’t original either, distilling the essences of General Melchett, Bob and Squadron Commander the Lord Flashheart, from the aforesaid BBC comedy. Having recently seen Charlie Merriman as a terrorist with a tortured soul, I rightly expected a similarly intense performance. He was fairly credible, but could have done more to make his character more nuanced: does anyone real so closely resemble a fretting fireball of neuroses and stress? As to the other actors, their roles are merely complementary, although Spencer Hughes did conjure up an amusing Ahmed.
So what else? The jokes mostly worked, with some absolute corkers and consistently good delivery of the linguistic and half-surreal comedy; the poorer jokes had a self-aware charm. A supportive audience was particularly receptive to Dan’s dig at the Tab (I’m assuming the audience largely comprised either disgruntled actors or TCS readers…). The obligatory references to Twitter and Apple products, and the news correspondent (something of a cliche), were also present. The set-design was sparse but effective, with some good sight-gags, and the direction was well-handled and perfectly paced, although Arthur Kendrick could have made more use of the talented Merriman.
Even compared to most comedy that makes it onto the Beeb nowadays , Batey et al. succeed rather well on their own terms.