The Jest Pleasance Reviewed 20th August 3 stars
If they seem familiar, you might have caught them in their previous incarnation as Simply The Jest. Or perhaps you’ve caught one or other of this sketch quintet on School of Comedy, Little Britain or Being Human.
The truth is, there’s a bit of everything in the mix here. Although the core dynamic of The Jest comes out of sketch comedy honed at the University of Exeter, the members seem to have different foci ranging from acting to writing to more traditional comedy.
I’m not predisposed to university sketch acts coming up from the south of England and bringing their overenthusiastic japes on engineering textbooks, London rental prices and what people from Devon are like. Or whatever the fuck they talk about down there.
Fortunately, there’s not too much of that here. The recurring bit about historical misunderstandings feels like an offcut from Arts Revue 2013, and the piece about an awards ceremony took far too long to get to its fairly weak payoff.
Yet these moments are the minority of the show. We manage to get through quite a bit in an hour, with a tightly blocked set moving seamlessly from skit to skit. If the consistency of the material were equal to the pace, this could be a near-flawless show.
The performances are also top-notch. Luke Theobald was a highlight, and although he’s generally given the easiest material, he demonstrates some not inconsiderable talent. His tone-perfect Maggie Smith impression unlocked a deep-seated need within me for Maggie Smith impressions. A need that I didn’t know existed before, but one that now cannot be sated.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a weak sketch will devolve to either fighting or fucking. It’s a shame that an enormously promising bit about a talk show for famous dead writers falls back so easily on innuendo and a priapic Dr. Seuss. It’s funny, but could be more. Having said that, it’s a real pleasure to see strong female representation in a cast, with great performances from Ella Ainsworth and Bryony Twydle, and a distinct lack of slap-and-tickle humour (Seuss notwithstanding).
I feel that The Jest is still adjusting to their new format, but with the across-the-board talent that I saw demonstrated this year I’m positive that we’ll see them again. Definitely worth catching if you enjoy a side of strong writing and performance with your sketch comedy.