A Joke

It was irresistible, I suppose: part way through Dan Freeman’s absurdist play A Joke, the acclaimed Scottish actor John Bett turns to his co-stars to start a joke with: "Doctor, Doctor". "Yes," reply Sylvester McCoy (the seventh Doctor Who) and Robert Picardo (the Emergency Medical Hologram, aka 'The Doctor', from Star Trek: Voyager). The moment does get a knowing laugh, but what's interesting is that it's by no means the biggest during the show.

Under Tony Cownie's praiseworthy direction, there are no worries of a misjudged performance.

This is important; any accusations of McCoy and Picardo's presence being stunt-casting crumble away in the light of them firstly being so good on stage, and secondly attracting a far wider audience than just Doctor Who and Star Trek fans. McCoy's physicality and Picardo's verbal dexterity are perfectly matched by Bett's mastery of the play's razor-sharp dialogue and rapid-fire one-liners. "An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a joke"; by far the biggest 'joke' about this particular cast is that the archetypal 'Scotsman' here is the only one NOT played by a Scottish actor.

While the Fringe is surely the most open of all the Edinburgh Festivals, to the new and unexpected, there's also a place for something like this, where we can all genuinely relax in the hands of three skilled, experienced and relaxed performers who know what they're about. Under Tony Cownie's praiseworthy direction, there are no worries of a misjudged performance: just the opportunity to enjoy three actors who appear totally at one with their amnesiac characters as they argue, disagree and begin to work together in order to work out the 'who, what, where, when and why' of their situation.

A Joke, naturally, has something to say about the structure of jokes: a punchline "has to punch"; you can either be in a joke or live happily ever after, but not both. Sadly, in explaining the joke, it's all too easy to suck the life out of it. And so it is here: pithy rapport not withstanding among the cast, this still ends up a play which fizzles out rather than deliver a memorable punchline.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

Sylvester McCoy (Dr Who, Hobbit), Robert Picardo (Star Trek Voyager, Stargate Atlantis) and John Bett (Shallow Grave, Tess) star in Dan Freeman's hit play exploring our attitudes to humour and life. An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman find themselves in a void and must work out who and where they are. Are they constituents of a story, or is the joke on them? They approach the world respectively with fear, optimism and acceptance and gradually begin to solve the mystery of their own existence and ours. 'Sharp, satirical, effortlessly amusing' (Stage). 'Hilarious... exhilarating theatre' (International Times).

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