Insert Title Here – Hen & Chickens Theatre, London
Writersand performers:Noah James and Jordan Maxwell
Reviewer: Deborah Parry
Looking at the title, you’d be forgiven for assuming that this show is an intriguing improvisational comedy – you’d be wrong. What we actually get, instead, is 45 minutes of sketches that aren’t very original, or, actually, very funny. Part of Camden’s Fringe Festival, the piece has been created by and is performed by duo Noah James and Jordan Maxwell aka Noah and Jordan, whose material started life online and, well, probably should have ended there.
The premise (if you can call it that) is that a wheel stands on stage, which has a series of titles (such as ‘Trolling’, ‘Poetry’, ‘Sex’ and’ Politics’) pinned on to it. It is spun and a sketch is then selected at random, although this actually seems rather pointless – as each one is ultimately used, so it merely serves as a way of deciding the order…which could have been achieved with other, more entertaining, methods. There is also an issue that, when titles are used they are not replaced, meaning that spaces are then left empty and the performers have to rotate the wheel to the nearest card (having already spun it). So the idea doesn’t seem to have been thought through very well, is awkward, and just doesn’t work.
Watching this production is a bit like being at a dull party where the host keeps telling you what a great time you’re having; the more James and Maxwell dance about and hurl crude one-liners at us,the more alienated we feel and the more aware we are that we are not laughing. And the jokes really are awful – even Frankie Boyle would draw the line at anecdotes about homosexual parents and stillborn babies. Some of the characters have potential – the David Cameron-esque politician who runs his family like his political campaigns, for example, but a great deal of re-writing and attention to comedic timing and delivery needs to happen before the material truly hits the mark.
In the middle of the show, before spinning the blasted wheel, Maxwell tells us that the sketches were written while the pair were intoxicated and are much funnier to watch after consuming a few drinks, although at this point it’s easy to imagine that most of the audience are thinking that morphine might be more useful to make the experience slightly less painful. It feels like the two have written a piece for the screen and are delivering it to a camera, rather than relishing in the experience of having a live audience before them. So many brilliant comedy duos started in fringe productions – such as Pappy’s, Watson and Oliver, Mel and Sue – so, understandably, there is a fair expectation of a decent standard.
The best comedy performers make what they do seem effortless – and, rather than marvel at their talent and brilliance, sometimesmerely watching them inspires others to give it a go. On the other end of the scale, when comedy is done badly, we are reminded of how difficult it actually is to do it well. Unfortunately, Insert Title Here is a perfect example of the latter, proving that being funny isn’t as simple as dressing up as a Teletubby and delivering a few terrible jokes. Respect to the James and Maxwell for trying but, perhaps, their niche lies elsewhere.
Runs until 14 August 2016 | Image: Contributed