Review: Two by Two: Here We Go Again

Seán O'Neill 23 October 2019

While a number of Two by Two’s conceits ran thin despite the commendable efforts of its duos, this exuberant celebration of well established talent delighted with a deliciously chaotic energy and intelligent moments of welcome self satire.

Establishing itself as a recurring event by making a return to the ADC stage, Two by Two is a peculiar beast to review: a compilation of musical comedy duos in which, to simplify, one performer can sing and the other, supposedly, is more comedically gifted.

Thankfully, many of the duos featured a demolition of the boundaries between “CUMT” and “Footlight”, with comedians asserting their vocal competency and singers keeping pace with the antics of their partners. Jamie Bisping and Meg Coslett’s performance not only achieved this, but brought a much appreciated self satire to the premise of the show — Coslett sidelining Bisping to belt ostentatious vocalizations and the two enacting the petty power dynamics of who gets to sing “the harmony”.

Image credit: Elena Boninsegni

The on-stage band comprising Laurence T-Stannard, Sam Glass and Finlay Stafford deserve commendation for their seamless adaptation to the idiosyncrasies of the performers they accompanied, while hosts Harriett Fisher and Will Owen filled their roles with perfect charisma and charm, exhibiting a seasoned professionalism. Two by Two’s structure welcomes variety, and the show was at its best when introducing new gags and concepts to the mix.

Recontextualising or rewriting well known lyrics was a consistent gag which diminished in effect by the show’s end, yet most duos kept things fresh with unique musical sketches. Lottie Elton, in partnership with Louisa Stuart-Smith, deserves particular credit for her comedic and vocal performance; Stuart-Smith proved the perfect, earnest foil to Elton’s hilarious clowning and the pair delivered one of my personal highlights. While the premise of this duos’ musical sketch involved lyrical recontextualisation, the execution was handled carefully enough, alongside other discrete gags peppered throughout, that their act never became tiresome.

Two by Two proved least enjoyable when, not only was the show’s concept neither tested nor satirised, but when it failed to function at all. Performers singing outside their abilities were often, sensibly, harnessed to enhance a comedic dynamic, yet when little comedy attached itself to extended moments of strained singing, I felt the purpose of Two by Two’s pairings to get a little lost, and wondered if some of the sketches could have been thought through more carefully.  Thankfully these moments were rare, and the generous allowance afforded less experienced singers was more than appropriate for the context.

Chaotic, hilarious and clever, Two by Two featured scenes of brilliance accompanied by momentary derailments; a thoroughly enjoyable, if flawed, celebration of two iconic student institutions, which, at its best, poked fun at the sizable silliness inherent in both.

3.5 stars