Frantic, fun and frivolous, this fast-paced one-man show is an entertaining comic thriller of Cold War intrigue and Scrabble. In this laugh-a-minute production, Nick Hall mixes mime, narration and keyboard accompaniment to create a world of surreal events and bizarre characters. When Britain’s greatest Scrabble master is discovered having mysteriously strangled himself just three days before the world Scrabble tournament, M15 are at their wits end. London’s only hope rests with Arthur Fenchurch, a bumbling, asthmatic underling in the secret service stationery department, who is tasked with venturing across the Iron Curtain - dodging Russian snipers - to Budapest, to represent Britain against the Soviet Union in the world Scrabble competition.
Szgrabble is an undemanding and delightful hour of laughter.
With irrepressible energy - assisted by simple sounds effects - Hall leads his audience through a sequence of strange scenes: a clandestine rendez-vous on the roof of M15, a Scrabble training camp in deepest Siberia, a breakneck boat-chase on an Amsterdam canal, and so on. With each new setting, Halls leaps into a new set of characters. There is something slightly Izzard-esque in the pantomimed way he pivots back and forth, performing both sides of a dialogue - a resemblance probably strengthened by the adoption of such exaggerated accents and mannerisms. The humour straightforward, and sometimes predictable, but it works very well with the style of the show. Expect contrived jokes, bad puns, Cold War clichés and affectionate national stereotypes, and you won’t be disappointed.
At times the show feels chaotic and, as Hall struggles to cram the entire story into 60 minutes, we lose the well-polished precision of the first few scenes. However, his ease with the audience and his cheerful self-ridicule allow him to turn these imperfections into moments of comedy. Hall misses no opportunity to break the fourth wall to comment on his own performance, and these out-of-character moments provide some of the comic highpoints of the show.
Shamelessly silly from start to finish, Szgrabble is an undemanding and delightful hour of laughter.