Gein's Family Giftshop: Volume 3

Geins Family Giftshop adopts a very particular style of dark humour. If it’s not for you then you will find the performance difficult to enjoy, if it strikes a chord then you may just love it.

This Giftshop has too much stock to sell when it should really be concentrating on perfecting the design of its most popular products.

After losing a member of their onstage sketch trio just before last years EdFringe, the group had to call on LAMDA-trained actor Adam Scott-Rowley as a stand-in for scenes that duo Ed Easton and Kath Hughes couldn’t manage without a third. Whenever unneeded Scott-Rowley was shooed and harried offstage, mocked for his academic credentials. This was funny at first, but the joke was stretched too far, with the sketch duo becoming almost painfully aggressive. It was a joke, sure, but you can only watch a grown man be threatened and bullied so many times before an odd sense of discomfort sets in. And then there is the whole aggressive Northerner versus the posh, mild-mannered Southern academic trope which, as a Northerner, I couldn’t easily stomach. Were they being ironic or promoting stereotypes?

To be clear once again, I am a Northerner and the performers are Northern too, in fact we originate from pretty equally Northern points on a map of Britain, I checked. However, despite the amount they focused on just how Northern they are, I found I had no advantage over the London crowd I sat with. I found the humour no easier to understand or connect with, which I suppose could be taken as a good thing as it means the audience started out on an equal footing, regardless of background.

Some of the sketches were indeed funny but overshadowed by others that were cringe-worthy. A scene involving strangulation by necklace was hilarious, and the subversion utilised in some of the sketches was clever - there was certainly charm to much of the performance. There was no music cues or light changes between scenes as the sketches bled into one another, which worked successfully in some parts and less well in others. It was certainly an innovative approach and a bold choice.

The humour is dark but matter-of-fact. This matter-of-factness meant that when the actors broke out of character they had to very clearly explain that they were no longer acting. And no, this was not a clever play-within-a-play theatrical moment I missed, they actually halted the performance for well over a minute to emphatically explain a joke that a perplexed and offended audience member had misinterpreted and heckled about. Had the audience member genuinely misunderstood the humour or had they simply zoned out of the proceedings until they heard a provocative line out of context? I can’t say, but neither reaction favours the comedic timing and skill of the sketch group.

The real problem lay in the fact that the comedy utilised by Geins Family Giftshop is purposefully bad-taste. Bad-taste humour ought to be presented boldly and unapologetically, assuming that the audience will cotton on that it’s all personas and jokes told without genuine malice. The first half of the show managed this well, but stopping the performance midway to explain one joke managed to provoke the audience into shouting out questions about other aspects of the show. This led to an odd atmosphere that the performers clearly struggled with as later punchlines came out wrong and the flow of the performance was stymied. It was a pity I attended on a night with a hard crowd, as I suspect the performance in full steam could have been somewhat better. As it was the group clearly needs to work out better methods of addressing hecklers and walk-outs. Stopping the show (again and just 5 minutes before the end) to encourage someone talking to leave felt particularly unprofessional and symptomatic of the generally negative atmosphere the show had cultivated by that point.

All in all Geins Family Giftshop tried to achieve too much. There were a lot of gags that had an overlong set up, and trills added to the performance that muddled it rather than enhanced. For example I found their choice of ending confusing rather than smart; they chose to end on the beginning as if the show had happened in reverse. This meant that all explanation of how the sketches worked was saved until the very end and either you caught on to what they were doing or you didn’t as the performance bore on. Sink or swim.

This Giftshop has too much stock to sell when it should really be concentrating on perfecting the design of its most popular products. 

Reviews by Ailish George

Southwark Playhouse


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The Blurb

Like persistent dandruff, Gein’s Family Giftshop are back, and they are itching to show you what they’ve come up with.

Skin ailments aside, Gein’s Family Giftshop are a multi-award winning 4 strong, 5 star sketch group who’ll be hawking out yet another hour of “fluid and twisted” (The Guardian) sketch comedy, performed with “the kind of sensibility that would unsettle even the darkest League of Gentlemen fan” (The Sunday Times).