Sketch You Up! bills itself as “Catherine Tate meets Little Britain”, and mostly manages to replicate the character-driven performances that made Tate, Walliams and Lucas household names. Unfortunately, the show falls short of the mark, compounded by issues that were easy to overlook in the early 2000s, but feel dated nearly two decades later.
As with much of the sketch scene at the Fringe, a talented cast is undermined by poor writing.
Without a doubt, the energised performances from a well-balanced cast are the best part of the show, but these are undermined by strange structural choices and shallow writing. The show opens with the cast lamenting that the show isn’t called ‘Sketch Marks’, which is a harbinger of later off-the-shelf punchlines such as “I’ve wet myself” and, in reference to a chlamydia diagnosis, “you dirty bitch.” The cast are inexplicably reluctant to perform, tempted back by the promise of money; this framing device is never returned to, and sits at odds with what are otherwise very committed performances.
Sketches that are described as “observational and familiar but with a contemporary Sketch You Up! twist” are in fact instruments of blunt irony that frustratingly lack depth. The joy of sketch comedy is to be introduced to an idea, a new way of looking at the world, and watch as it spirals out of control or collides with reality. Unfortunately for Sketch You Up!, the concepts can be understood in the first few moments and rarely escalate. Some concepts are excruciatingly familiar, such as rude waiting staff, and posh friends who despair at the idea of being poor. Disappointingly, sketches that had little promise were brought back multiple times to repeat jokes.
This major flaw shows in a multi-part sketch set in a world where heterosexuality is marginalised while gay culture flourishes. So far, so political-correctness-gone-mad. The intended message of how bizarre and destructive the ostracisation of LGBTQ+ individuals can be is sabotaged by lapses into derogatory gay stereotypes such as demands for pornstar martinis, shrill screaming, and tight rainbow hot pants.
As with much of the sketch scene at the Fringe, a talented cast is undermined by poor writing. Sketch You Up! might successfully mimic the non-PC comedy of the past, but whether an appetite still exists for this style in 2019 remains to be seen.