A mad mish-mash of absurdism and warped nostalgia, encountering the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society felt more akin to my psyche bleeding out into the back room of an old boozer than attending an hour of free fringe comedy: this is by no means a bad thing. The Society’s material is some of the most original and uncompromising I have ever seen.
Named after a 70s comedian who made his name on the pre-alternative comedy scene by repeatedly smashing a tray against his face, the group’s style feels aptly masochistic, generating hysteria by pushing the audience entirely out of their comfort zone. The opening act of Poor Johnny Sorrow presents a chronically unfunny comedian, whose abject failure in the wake of alternative comedy manifests in a magnificent tirade of shrieks, shoddy jokes, rants and dances atop of the pub’s soft furnishings. By the end of this bit, I was moved to tears of both hilarity and incomprehension.
Similarly surreal elements are studded throughout each constituent element of the hour. The audience is introduced to a laryngitic ventriloquist’s dummy named Little Johnny, whose wails resound only after being locked up in a box offstage. A little ditty for an exotic-animal-trading shop named Puffin’s Pets is played in reverse, with accompanying ‘reverse’ choreography. Anthropomorphic animals stand silently around the stage. Whilst no single skit matches the raucous reception of the opening scene, its experimentalism is always undoubtable.
Of course, the near-inevitable consequence of such adventurous material is an accompanying spate of failing scenes. The deadpan delivery of Sir Richard Swan’s logic-bending jokes is allowed to lapse into laboriousness and the skit on Mr Pig – a porcine-headed man who stands silently whilst Jonny Sorrow dances about him – is overdue a date with the abattoir (and I don’t mean the Udderbelly bar). For a good deal of the hour, grins of glee seem to shift into grimaces of discomfort. The unfortunate structure of the show compounds the ability of the rather laugh-light scenes to sap the atmosphere initially so brilliantly established, as the show peaks in its very opening. Furthermore, over-lengthy interludes separating each segment occasionally kill any pace already produced.
The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society produces material that is bold, brave and bizarre. While not necessarily accessible or evenly-structured, its ambition is incredible and idiosyncratic. I urge that you attend, but I can’t promise a completely pleasant or agreeable time.