Best of BEASTS is a wild and brilliant explosion of a show packed with slightly smaller explosions throughout – and I’m not talking about pyrotechnics. Owen Roberts, James McNicholas and Ciarán Dowd are just as high-octane and fired up as ever – so if you were worrying about them running out of fuel, don’t.
An utterly hysterical and truly beautiful classic moment of “what the *#@£ is going on?”
The BEASTS storm the stage of the Pleasance Queen Dome through an excited audience. Their liveliness immediate, their energy infectious, these are guys who know exactly who they are and exactly what they’re here there to do. This is not their first Fringe, they’re not another rookie sketch group unsure of their identity – they’re BEASTS, the original gangsters. Perhaps it’s this certainty, this confidence that makes them feel so distinct, so ‘next level’. Or perhaps it's the fact that James just started building a barricade on the stairs while Ciarán is charging around with a flag a la Les Misérables. It’s the latter – their magic lies in their spontaneity.
What looked to be a formulaic ten minutes of trialling songs for Owen’s new play about a notable African leader was suddenly broken into the Les Mis style franticness previously described. It was an utterly hysterical and truly beautiful classic moment of “what the *#@£ is going on?”. Wonderfully for a ‘best of’ show, there are remnants of a narrative in recurring gags such as Owen’s new play, as well as all the classic sketches. The vivacity with which these are performed makes them feel as uncannily fresh as when they were first shown.
It would seem the main theme of Best of BEASTS is ‘control’. The comedic ambitions of each member are quickly shot down: Owen’s impressions flirt with racism as the other two step in to stop him while James expresses his desire to involve falconry in the show to the others’ surprise. And Ciarán? Ciarán just wants to get naked. The audience thoroughly enjoy the constant struggle to keep the peace as moments and sketches are thrown in wild new directions and blended in hilarious ways, adding new levels to already brilliantly funny moments. It seems appropriate then that the show’s culmination is a rejection of this control as the boys let loose. Unfortunately, a moment in which we expect to see the full force of the BEASTS’ wildness feels anticlimactic and underwhelming. In addition to this, the guys’ attempts to interact with their audience felt inorganic, like they were ticking certain boxes instead of actually connecting.
The description for Best of BEASTS refers to the guys as the ‘Kings of Sketch’. It’s a big assertion, one a lot of people will argue with, but darn it, these guys just may be right. For all the things already mentioned, but also because we are incredibly aware as the lights go down that the three men before us are three great friends having a lot of fun goofing around together – and that sounds exactly like what sketch comedy should be.