Piece by Piece is a radio sketch show hinging on an audacious concept – everyone gets given a starting line and a finishing line of a sketch, and has to write in the rest. From this, a big cast of writer-performers spins 35 minutes of genuinely entertaining sketch comedy, with some delicious characters brought splendidly to life along the way.
The concept, truth be told, is somewhat dysfunctional, much as I admire the originality. The mandated lines are amusing, but they put straitjackets on the writers, driving them into unhelpful alleyways. Typically, the most important part of a sketch is its punchline; trying to write the sketch that will make your pre-written one hilarious is nearly impossible, like trying to build a skyscraper from the roof downwards. Consequently, very few punchlines actually provoke laughs; a few sound almost apologetic.
The impressive thing is that this doesn’t really matter. The jokes along the way are funny enough, and the actors talented enough, that it’s a delicious listen even without killer sign-offs. And the peculiar constraints of the quirky opening and closing lines – “Doors are pointless anyway!” – stimulate an absurdity in the sketches that is often raucous. The recipient of a ‘60-Second Makeover’ is disgruntled to find it mainly involves her house being reduced to rubble, albeit very speedily. An unfortunate woman believed she was going to a crochet demonstration in the textile house but ended up at a crocodile demonstration in the reptile house. There is also a moment – tantalisingly teased in the YouTube info – when the sound effect ‘Cuckoo Clock, Breaking Down’ occurs – I am pleased to report that this is every bit as enjoyable as you would imagine.
But the wackiness is matched by intelligent writing, most visible in a stand-out sketch involving Disney executives trying to come up with new ideas. After ‘The Lion King’s Speech’ and ‘The Nightmare Before Easter Sunday’ are rejected, somebody has a brainwave: ‘We remake the live-action remakes of animated films… as animated films!’ The rest almost writes itself.
The production values are strong: there’s a lot more atmos running under the dialogue than you’d expect from a sketch show, a veritable picnic for the ears that audio editor Ella Fitt deserves credit for. There’s also a framing narrative placed around all the sketches, giving an elegant veneer of structure not a whit less enjoyable for the occasional crowbarring it involves. There are moments of delight in every sketch, and the gusto with which it’s undertaken makes Piece by Piece a resplendent jigsaw in which each of its contributors should be proud to have taken part.