A Joke

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a joke... Or do they?

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A Joke
Published 17 Aug 2017

Call your play A Joke, and you brand it as either humorous, or inadequate. Writer and director Dan Freeman’s show is definitely more the former, although—like an erratic string of one-liners—it never quite gathers true comic momentum.

This has a lot to do with the premise: the three men on stage, dressed identically in striped nightshirts, Crocs and beanies, make a ragged attempt to work out who, where and why they are. Deciding that they are the set up for a joke—based on fairly spurious evidence that they are an Irishman, Scotsman and an Englishman (“you’re loud, rude, with a great sense of your own importance – you’re English”)—they act out various scenarios to try and reveal the punchline, in a bar, aeroplane and desert island.

Sylvester McCoy (Dr Who, The Hobbit) and Robert Picardo (Star Trek Voyager) both give charming performances, their dynamic owing much to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, with Richard Oliver a rather more strained counterpoint as the Englishman. Just as the characters both play into and disrupt their national stereotypes, so too does the action travel towards traditional punchlines, before smartly confounding them.

More clumsy is the repeated summary of the elements necessary to make a joke – and the dialogue does, at times, sag between set ups, as with Oliver’s overly-long (and badly delivered) allegory about Jewish humour. However, the show is otherwise delightfully absurdist—“Why the long face?” “I haven’t got a horse”—and blessedly lacking in disturbing subject or subtext. If the three men’s purpose turns out to be anything, it is to perform a shaggy dog story: that rambling blend of gag and narrative. A greatly enjoyable one it is, too.