In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the players are driven to Elsinore by a company of child actors who have commandeered the urban stages. I know how they feel. School of Comedy are outrageously popular with the crowd who roar with laughter, their volume in inverse proportion to the age of the child involved. It’s a one-joke show and describing that joke won’t ruin it in the slightest: children act like adults. Whether that’s celebrity impersonations, television parodies or basic situational sketches, the age of the performer amplifies the content and consequently the laughter.
It’s a gimmick and the content of the sketches themselves, which are clichéd and poorly written, doesn’t live up to the audience response. The contrast between metrosexual men and ladettes on their respective stag and hen nights is a simple switch of expectations. The monologues that impersonate Jeremy Clarkson and The Queen have little substance, despite entertaining performances by the young actors. They’re battling against scripts that use their age rather than their talent; their distance from the topic at hand, rather than finding their own originality and personality.
The children are very skilled actors who would get top marks in their GCSE Drama and LAMDA exams with flying colours. They don’t quite have the same control as their adult counterparts, but they are a talented bunch of kids, with a lot of energy, perfect clarity and mostly a good grasp of their material. There are plenty of places, however, to go and see child acting of this standard or higher – plenty of West End musicals for example have outstanding child choruses, delivering much more exciting and experimental content. Many in the company may end up there. Using their age as a gimmick here, without pushing any boundaries, without creating anything new, doesn’t get them far enough at the moment.
At times the show is far too creepy for its own good. The serial boyfriend of a synchronised swimming team, Allan, implies he has slept with a lineup that includes a nine year old girl. There is a date-rape joke that, although framed with a tentative lack of endorsement, seems culturally loaded beyond the years of the boy asked to recite it. At the other end of the scale is the show’s finale, a charismatic ditty called ‘Bob Diamond is Forever’, all financial jargon and sassy delivery. It shows an ingenuity lacking in the majority of the other material and just how impressive the young people in the show can be when pushed.
If your idea of a great time is hearing a nine-year old girl shout the word ‘ketamine’ then you may well love School of Comedy. Many audience members clearly did and you could do worse than take their laughter as a positive recommendation. However, seasoned comedy audiences will demand something much more original and School of Comedy is as old as Shakespeare.