Writing about shows like True Stories would put most reviewers in a difficult position. On the one hand, it seems brutal and ungrateful to only give only one star to a cast of likely inexperienced actors working off very little rehearsal time and doing their best to give everyone an enjoyable experience. On the other, to give this show anything more would debase the rating system. The core problem this sketch show has is more than likely a simple lack of rehearsal time. The show attempts to land some unusual jokes, but time and time again fails to execute; not helped by the fact that a not insignificant number of the actors simply read lines from their phones.
True Stories sets out to satirise a news outlet which promises nothing other than ‘the absolute truth’, and it would be unfair to deny the show any praise for this humorous discussion of the media’s capacity for unbiased reporting. Indeed, the opening scenes made thoughtful use of lighting to bring out the Orwellian undercurrents of this self-claimed truth-loving news channel. Merit was also found in Alfred Leigh’s foray into musical theatre which showed genuine comedic potential. But again, a patent lack of rehearsal and consequent execution stunted any chance of bringing real laughter into the Pembroke Cellars.
True Stories also suffered from a lack of dramatic, narrative, and parodic unity. Even if taken within the consistent absurdity of the show, the audience sat through sketches which were as irrelevant as they were unimaginative. It was in fact due to the show’s extraordinarily broad scope for acceptable material that it failed to be funny. Real creativity comes from innovation under limitations, and the lack of any limitation removed all the meaning and humour from the show’s strangeness. With a series of truly inexplicable events (the smashing of a plastic toaster, the mutilation of a cooked chicken), the show’s randomness became exhausting and revealed itself as an immature attempt to shock its audience into giggles.
The show’s attempt at improvisation exemplified another central comic problem. At one part, the cast attempt to parody a Question Time panel and look to the audience for questions. Each character has their stereotype and has clearly been briefed to respond to the audience’s questions accordingly. Yet, the humour is far too predictable and is immediately tiresome. It is not funny for a female panellist, whom we have already been told is a radical feminist, simply to answer in a man-hating way. It is also not funny for the CEO of Greggs to be limited to exclusively pro-Greggs answers. The total lack of the unexpected and abeyance to the obvious removed any chance of actual satire. Worst of all, if at any point the cast felt they might have strayed upon an actually amusing line, they were prone to giggle as much as the audience should have.
I do not want this criticism to discourage the cast of True Stories, but I cannot recommend this show with any amount of sincerity. But perhaps if you are interested in thinking about why certain things are funny, and why others aren’t, then this show may be worth £6-8 and 90 minutes of your time.