Where did you see it? Canal Cafe Theatre, Little Venice
I have to admit I have actually seen The Three Englishmen before, I know get those jaws off the floor as it becomes apparent I do go to comedy, honest. I first saw them at the much missed SketchUp night in Shoreditch's Bar Kick. I say much missed because I went to two before they closed it down and never restarted again (I have a similar effect with jobs, work somewhere, it shuts within the year). I say I saw them; I saw two of them. My attempts at seeing The Three Englishmen as a foursome were failures for a while until last summer when I saw their well received debut Edinburgh show.
I'm not going to mince my words here; I'd be amazed if Optimists is as well received as last year's show. It feels very samey, like a difficult second album. Sketches that were successful first time round seem to be changed slightly for this show, but not as funny and they committed the crime that all the sketch acts I've been seeing do; no punchline for sketches that have good ideas or sketches that make no sense. So many sketches start off strongly, like a sketch involving a father telling his son about his university days, then just end with perplexed, nervous laughter and polite clapping from an audience that doesn't get what went so wrong.
|The Three Englishmen L-R Jack Hartnell, Nick Hall,|
Tom Hensby and Ben Cottam
I will admit that I had seen some of their finest sketches before at new material nights and that perhaps spoiled my enjoyment; I assume most of their Edinburgh audience won't be weird fan girls like me so will approach it with fresh eyes. That isn't to say there aren't good sketches but that momentum of a strong sketch, such as the elderly donkey keeping man whose past time infuriates his neighbours, blind chemist or Lady Gaga at school, is then ruined by a weak filler or sketches don't know when to JUST END.
To be honest much of the Three Englishmen's sketches are saved by the performances, with Cottam standing out this year. Hensby and Hall seem quickest on their feet, perhaps more aware of their weaker sketches or general preview teething problems so keen to improvise where they can. Which looks like I'm being incredibly cruel to Hartnell; I don't mean to be as he's the backbone of the musical numbers that are spread through the show (They were Musical Comedy Awards 2011 runner up) and whilst I have voiced my displeasure when it comes to musical comedy I can't fault their harmonies and most of their comedy intentions; some fail to hit the mark (why are so many sketch acts doing 'mash ups' of popular songs in a comedy fashion now?) but others like their Jack the Ripper song would only work in a musical fashion.
I'm desperately hoping the show just needs a bit of tweaking, that all will be well when they come back in September but producing similar sketches from previous years won't win them favours with the critics. It hasn't with this one anyway.