The Joke

An Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman walk into a theatre and get stuck in a joke. In an attempt to escape, they live out the punchline repeatedly, in an array of diverse and wacky ways. But re-enacting their scripted, preordained roles becomes increasingly frustrating as they find themselves unable to leave the room and as they pick apart their contribution to the anecdote: the complex power structures and problematic cultural tropes behind the age-old joke. Is it outdated? Is it racially insensitive? Is it even funny? As they become less and less certain about what the joke is and why they are telling it, they begin to question themselves, the nation they have unwittingly come to represent and anyone’s capacity to split a tic-tac into three.

The Joke is smart. The script feels genuinely spontaneous and the humour is sharp.

The Joke is smart. The script feels genuinely spontaneous and the humour is sharp. It is simultaneously farcical and solipsistic, cleverly blending choreographed physical theatre with Beckettian periods of silence and banality. If metacomedy sounds a little high-brow, rest assured that it is handled with a light, deft touch and stays on the right side of funny without becoming philosophical. The continual return to the central joke of the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman, and the subsequent variants on this theme, are well-developed. It gradually increases in absurdity until the joke itself, even the concept of a joke, loses all meaning.

There are moments of real brilliance in The Joke, particularly the parody of the men getting into character, an ironic effort as the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman are playing themselves. Rousing sea- shanties, clever mash-ups, comedic jigs and adaptable, multifunctional set pieces are smoothly incorporated into the fray over the course of the action; there is something for everyone in this show.

There is something charming about watching Adamsdale, Logan and Hutchinson perform together. They seem (at least to an observer) to be having a really good time, and their joyful antics create an infectiously positive atmosphere within the theatre. As is to be expected, as a company they play off each other to great comedic effect. They are a tight trio in which each individual has moments to shine, but they are also considerate of each others’ time in the spotlight.

Perhaps, however, at times the joke fell a little flat. When Adamsdale shuts himself in a cupboard, railing against the others due to their cultural insensitivity against him – the Englishman – he drags the gag out for an unnecessarily long time. There are also moments when the farce becomes slightly too pronounced, threatening to undermine the shrewdness with which this piece has been devised (offstage bangs and crashes lose their novelty pretty quickly).

Having said this, the wild abandon of the onstage japes and capers really won me over and I found myself grinning throughout. The Joke deserves great audiences because the actors work hard – really hard, in fact (I found myself worrying that Adamsdale might pass out at several points). This is short, sweet, smart and worth your support. 

Reviews by Cal Kenny

Dorfman - National Theatre

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★★★★★
Southbank Centre

Bianco

★★★
Trafalgar Studio 1 / Trafalgar Studios

Buried Child

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

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★★
The Royal Court Theatre

Torn

★★★
Soho Theatre

Two Man Show

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

An Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman got trapped in a joke.

‘How do we get out?’ said the Enlishman

‘Just stop telling it’ said the Irishman

‘But we’re too far in!’ said the Scotsman

The Joke is a new play from Edinburgh comedy award winner Will Adamsdale – and company – exploring jokes and why we tell them, countries and why we need (and despair of) them, and life and why we bother. And tic tacs.