Ah, the classic buddy comedy: overdone by definition and yet extremely resilient. Keep it Real is one of those plays that can be best described via what TVTropes calls a
A tight, funny comedy with a rhythm.
Big Willy (Sam Thorpe-Spinks) meets Anthony, later T-Bone (Joshua Jackson), inside the detention hall at school. Both actors are much too old for the characters they’re playing, but then so are the actors in every high school TV show ever made. That initial encounter produces a series of wacky hijinks that pushes them towards forming a band. Both characters are likeable, silly and more complicated than they originally appear. This, paired with a mastery of comic timing displayed by both Thope-Spinks and Jackson, makes even the most trivial jokes land.
While there are jokes that are, like the plot, predictable and at least 30-years old, in other parts the writing really shines. There are rap sections delivered by Big Willy, before he learns to ‘keep it real’, that cause minutes of uninterrupted giggling. It would have been easy to use the hip-hop set-up without much effort, so it’s a pleasure to see interesting, (presumably) original music alongside references and transition music from artists like Tupac, Dr. Dre and a Tribe Called Quest. Though scene transitions are often long – they used a scene-setting backboard that took time to change – the music keeps the room bumping to the beat of the play. And even though the plot is simplistic, that never stopped it from being narratively satisfying. The climax, which, of course, takes the form of a concert, can’t fail to get the audience smiling.
Keep it Real is a tight, funny comedy with a rhythm. But it’s not the Fringe-iest thing in town. When it finds its medium, I bet that Channel 4 viewers would eat this up for 23 minutes per week.