Sheeps are officially back, following previous acclaim and an underground status as one of the Fringe's finest sketch groups and then a three year sebatical. Perhaps temporarily. Whilst sketch comedy lies in Schroedinger's Pleasance Courtyard, constantly being heralded as simultaneously dead and back alive again, the return of Sheeps has caused a buzz around the Fringe. Even if they didn't make as much of a stir outside of the Edinburgh circles as they should have done, the solo success of Liam Williams has ensured that the Sheeps name has lived on long enough for this run to pack out the group's sizeable reunion venue. But will Sheeps live up to the reputation that now precedes them as masters of metatextual sketch comedy?
May be the best hour of sketch comedy on offer all month.
Yes, basically. With Live And Loud Selfie Sex Harry Potter, Sheeps have created a surreal - but never alienating - hour of sketches that only occasionally stumble into being too metatextual for their own good. For the most part, the sketch trio do an effective job of permitting the audience a peek behind the curtain without giving their gimmick away. The show has a storyline about Daran Johnson's failure to move past their group's breakup in the way the other two members of the group have, and this story is given just enough focus to ground some of the more outlandish sketches in human emotion and draw the audience in. One of the more quietly innovative elements of the show comes from the three members of the group seemingly chatting and often arguing amongst themselves at the back of the stage. It is often not commented on, but it provides the trio with a third dimension outside of the sillier sketches.
The opening fifteen minutes of the show is by far the strongest, as the opening pair of song and dance numbers transcend the usual excuse to get the audience's blood pumping. Instead, they turn that aspect on the crowd in a way that lands perfectly, highlighting the smartly subversive nature of the group whilst never letting them get too smug with their metatextual antics. As the show wears on, a couple of weaker sketches unfortunately crop up. And a distinctively long sketch about an animal in a restaurant is left to play for so long that it seems as though the joke is on the audience for watching the joke being intentionally dragged out. Whilst this is a potential avenue for comedy that has been used before, it feels out of place in a show that is otherwise well-paced.
Nonetheless, Sheeps present the Edinburgh Fringe with what may be the best hour of sketch comedy on offer all month. With a strong emotional through-line and an unrelenting pace for the most part, it would be unfortunate if Lve And Loud Selfie Sex Harry Potter did turn out, as the group seem to threaten, to be a one-off reunion gig.