In their opening night at The Packhorse, Leeds University’s very own sketch comedy troupe landed laugh after laugh in their concept show Neighbourhood Watch.
I used to be hesitant to see sketch comedy. While I watch the viral YouTube clips from the wildly successful British sketch comedy of the 00s (That Mitchell and Webb Look, Armstrong and Miller), I was never able to get into a whole episode, perhaps because sketch has historically been so hit and miss.
But thanks to The Leeds Tealights I am now a convert. In Neighbourhood Watch, they proved that sketch comedy can be consistently, outrageously funny. This is a mean feat when you consider that sketch relies on the performers introducing characters and concepts, landing jokes and wrapping it up all within the space of a few minutes, over and over again.
Chronologically, the first reason for the Tealights’ success was due to the fact that by the time they came to the stage, the audience was well warmed-up by stand-up from Laurentz Valdes-Lea and Benjy Waldman. While Laurentz opted for a layered routine featuring multiple callbacks and meta moments, Benjy used his self-deprecating wit to mock his dating life as a middle-class Jew.
The Tealights kicked off their show by introducing the audience to their absurdist yet somehow shockingly believable framework: at a local neighbourhood watch meeting the members decide to use laughter as a tool to lower crime rates. Not only was this a sketch in itself, but it also created some much-needed continuity and pacing between the sketches, especially as the troupe went back to this neighbourhood watch scene halfway through.
Whilst the show didn’t appear to be improvised, its brilliantly written and thoroughly rehearsed nature contributed to its wonderful sense of spontaneity. Jokes developed at a fast pace throughout, often completely twisting the audience’s understanding by subverting their expectations of events. The increasingly absurd perfume adverts were a clear highlight. And despite hearing about the troupe’s opening night nerves, all the performers owned their characters and landed their jokes seamlessly.
It is hard to pick out an individual talent from the troupe as each performer contributed so much to the sketches. The Tealights delivered a masterclass in comedy acting (and even satirised the art of the craft along the way). Voice and movement – including two impromptu dance sequences – were brilliantly utilised to add further layers to an already hilarious script. Although Neighbourhood Watch featured a smaller number of performers (their first-semester show had a cast of six), at points it was hard to believe that so much energy, presence and comedic range could come from just four performers. The chemistry between the troupe also deserves a mention, bouncing off each other beautifully whilst performing as a four, as well as in their various combinations.
The Tealights also followed a fundamental rule of comedy - knowing their audience. Sketch after sketch satirised many tropes familiar to an average Gen-Zer, from growing up playing The Sims and Wii Sports, to avoiding pyramid schemes on Facebook. The subjects of the sketches were familiar enough for the audience to immediately connect with, yet fresh enough to add something new.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning the excellent use of music to bookend each sketch. Not only did the expertly selected songs act as an additional punchline at the end of each sketch, from a production standpoint, it also aided the transitions between sketches, and added to the show’s overall smoothness and professionalism.
Overall, the whole troupe more than delivered in their hilariously constructed characters to sustain a very high standard of comedy throughout the entirety of the show. While I could list many reasons as to why Neighbourhood Watch made for such a funny show, the most obvious reason remains the most relevant: it just worked.
Neighbourhood Watch end their two night run at The Library Pub on Wednesday 9th March. Tickets are available here.