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Leeds Tealights: fresh talent alleviates deadline blues with a hilarious show of all-new sketches

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Across two completely sold-out shows at The Lending Room, six Tealights, plus an alumnus on sound, delved into previously unseen material with their show Harry’s Birthday Party. (I say meta because Harry is a Tealight and the second show took place on his actual birthday, and was actually nothing to do with Mr Styles’ birthday, as I initially assumed). As this was my third Tealights show, I especially looked forward to the slightly tangential concept which acts as a tool to explain why the Tealights are performing their sketches, in the first place. By performing favourite memories of Harry as a makeshift birthday present, we not only get a glimpse into the dynamic between the cast (or characters? I’m not sure where the fourth wall is at this point) but this also lends itself to some absurdist comedy as the sketches become increasingly preposterous and Harry ultimately emerges, among other things, as the assassin of JFK. Structurally therefore, Harry’s Birthday Party was both watertight and compelling: repeated jokes and callbacks, most notably the sketch on the paradoxical logic of Nanny McPhee, provided even more cohesion.

Harry was just one of five new Tealights, alongside one more experienced comic. I was particularly pleased to see Ellen and her sensual performances back on stage after she was absent from the Fringe preview show. Meanwhile, it was the first time we saw Phoebe and Alice performing, both already well-established themselves in the dramatic theatre scene, performing in shows like Bye Bye Baby and Cocoon. Their convincing pivot to comedy is testament to their range. Indeed, all Tealights were absolutely stellar, landing joke after joke as a six and in pretty much every single combination in between.

Speaking of pivoting from dramatic to comedic theatre, I generally review dramas, and a fundamental challenge of reviewing comedy is that there’s only so many ways to say “it was hilarious.” But, I’ll say it here because it’s absolutely true. The ninety minutes at The Lending Room, not forgetting Evie Cowen’s opener, in which they turned their childhood trauma experienced down a luge (which strangely parallels some of my own family holidays) into a candid stand-up routine, was a riotous affair ending in a well-deserved standing ovation.

They say the first rule of comedy is to know your audience. And I think this is the main reason why their show went down so well: the Tealights demonstrated a textbook example of this.The vignette of the enthusiastic yet deeply unhelpful director in an intimacy workshop had the many theatre-enthusiasts in the audience roaring with laughter, while a satirical sketch on the morality of watching BBC without paying for a TV licence was all-too familiar. I received a strongly worded email from TV Licensing only last week, informing me that they could tell I had been watching iPlayer… Yet, the Tealights were not simply playing to the crowd, or churning out jokes for easy laughs. As mentioned, they were brave enough to perform increasingly surreal sketches. A personal favourite of mine was, I like to think, spawned from the idea of how funny the word “period” sounds in a faux-Australian accent.

As I've already skipped past the point in the review where I add some constructive criticism due to having nothing to say, I should bring this extended explanation of “it was hilarious” to some sort of close. I want to end by emphasising that this (almost) all new generation of Tealights (and I say generation because their precociousness makes my 22-year-old self feel ancient) has surpassed the already very high bar set by their predecessors, particularly impressive as the troupe came together less than two months ago. That means they wrote, rehearsed and perfected an hour of original sketches in a matter of weeks, an output that is surely without comparison in the student theatre scene. I know I’ll be back for more laughs in their semester two show and hope to be a full-fledged groupie by the time Fringe rolls around.

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