Referendum and Dumber

Referendum and Dumber, from Ten Clowning Street, is irredeemably awful. It has to be one of the most shockingly one-sided and tediously unfunny shows that has ever disgraced the Edinburgh Fringe. The title suggests that it’s a comedy about the upcoming Scottish referendum. In reality it’s an hour long advert for the SNP with appalling jokes and overbearingly simple satire. The entire ethos of Referendum and Dumber is that the Scots represent the zenith of civilisation while the English represent its very nadir, an idea delivered with so little wit or irony that it beggars belief. The swaggering bullyboy patriotism would be threatening if it wasn’t so boring.

A show where the sheer amount of idiocy, vitriol and smugness is astounding.

The premise is a deadly dull allegory; Bananaland is tired of being ruled by Great Plumdom and they want independence. The citizens of Great Plumdom all smoke cigars, which are as big as Cuba, and have so much money that it’s falling out of their underwear. Occasionally they carry swag bags, just in case we are ever confused as to whom we are meant to be backing. Then we see the guys from Banana Land. They are happy go lucky partygoers. They blow bubbles and make animal shapes from balloons. The idea; an independent Scotland will be one endless party while the alternative is basically slavery.

Perhaps the show could have gotten away with its mind-numbing political simplicity if it had actually ever been funny. I didn’t laugh, I didn’t even smirk but I did groan. A lot. I've had beatings where I groaned less than I did during Referendum and Dumber. The jokes are stale, underwritten and repetitive. Every ten minutes we get another dance sequence which adds nothing to the show, least of all laughter. There were improv bits where the only people laughing were the performers themselves, as though they could not contain their own appreciation of their own wit. I, however, found it surprisingly easy.

One might reply that Ten Clowning Street are just being silly and irreverent. But silliness can only work if it is combined with innocence. Think Charlie Chaplin. This show however is so self-congratulatory and so self-satisfied that its silliness fails to be endearing becoming instead unbelievably irritating.

This is a comedy show that ultimately aims to get your cheers rather than your laughter; an aim which should be viewed with suspicion if not contempt. After a while the word ‘rally’ began to swim in my head like an earworm. At one point the leader of Great Plumdom, Darth Cummerbund, is asked what he thinks about immigrants. He replies that he hates all of them because he’s a big, nasty racist. But then he would say that, wouldn’t he? He’s English. Later on the leader of Banana Land, Alex Fishpaste, is asked the same question. His reply may be the comedic surprise of the century. “We welcome all foreigners of course,” he says. The irony obviously eludes the cast. They are trying to persuade us that Scots are the most inclusive people in the world in the middle of a show that is one of the most tribal, exclusive and hate-filled imaginable.

‘Thinking is boring,’ claims one of the English swine. The accusation is rich coming from Ten Clowning Street, who from the evidence of this show might just be entirely devoid of thought. Indeed Referendum and Dumber is a revelation as to just how stupid stupid people can really be. The result is a show where the sheer amount of idiocy, vitriol and smugness is astounding. However, the show does achieve something. It proves Dr Johnson’s dictum that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. But then he would say that, wouldn’t he? He’s English.

Reviews by Rory Mackenzie

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The Blurb

This September Scotland answers: yes or no. We ask you to make a tougher call: plums or bananas. So pick your sides but then split your sides and laugh as we laugh at them laughing at you! Ten Clowning Street hold a wonky mirror up to the wibbly-wobbly world of capitalist consumer driven culture and cardboard politicians. Absurdist satirical mirthmaticians on a mission to make you grin, we poke fun right in the eye! How deep are the waters that divide us? Come swim for yourself and find out. Banana or plum, we all laugh as one!