Anyone might be forgiven for apprehension about a literary sketch show. Few things are quite so bad as a bad pun; surely an invitation to obscure allusion can only make things worse? But audiences need not worry. The Canon, despite its many puns on books’ titles, keeps near-miraculously to healthy comedic territory.
It’s an impressively professional show
Part of the writers’ brilliance lies in physicalising wordplay. A supervision sketch built almost entirely out of literalised food metaphors elicited some of the loudest laughs of the performance I saw; Justin Blanchard, the segment’s nutty teacher, is indubitably The Canon’s resident comical genius. Even his “student” was moved to laughter once or twice by his infectious, hyper-energetic mania.
What about the play’s accessibility - would its esoteric references appeal only to English students? This is more troubling, and indeed, it seems to me that a reference to Barthes’s Death of the Author misses its target, while a metafictional Harry Potter sketch is taken a little too far. But perhaps the most telling episode is an arrestingly clever take on what may be the most famous sketch ever, Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch.This noir re-imagining will have its audience in stitches regardless of their familiarity with its source.
The same is true of the second supervision segment, surely a tip of the cap to Fry & Laurie’s drama teacher sketch. And The Canon’s best skit - David Matthews (book) with Georgia Wagstaff (student) on reading as erotic experience - makes no allusion at all, depending instead on those mainstays of sketch comedy: absurdity, surprise, conviction and wit.
'They are everywhere in evidence in The Canon. It’s an impressively professional show — well worth an hour of your time.