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Stretched Review: A wonderfully acted comedy stretched to its limits

Written by Louis Newstead

The intimate darkness of the Alec Clegg theatre is punctured only by the emanating drama of a gulag-centred monologue. You can almost smell the air from the imaginary wind cannons artfully blowing Felix’s hair. The gulag, however, is not quite the right backdrop for light-hearted daytime television, and so, through a stroke of questionable improvisation, a new idea bursts into existence… Stretchy Cow.

Photography by Abby Swain (Instagram: @aswainphotography)

Stretched is a wonderfully acted comedy about the stress, drama and friendship-testing moments that are brought about under the looming threat of time-pressure. With the clock counting down both figurately and literally as the centrepiece of the stage dressing, Phoebe (Maeve Brannen) and Alice (Molly Anderson) have less than thirty minutes to mould Felix’s throwaway childhood stories into something at least palatable for the masses. Their mad scramble for something resembling – but not ripping off – an Aardman production makes up the bulk of this fifty-minute show and form the tight parameters where the accentuated realisms of the characters are able to shine. Writer and star Thomas Davy is able to give the usual comedic character traits a fresh coat of paint: in true sitcom tradition we have the type-A, perpetually stressed Phoebe, who bounces beautifully off her opposite number in Alice, the foul-mouthed failed astrophysicist – the type to always keep a couple cans in the office. Rounding out the cast we have the scene-stealing performance of Tom Pavey as Cameron the TV producer, the standard boorish chauvinist clogging up the halls of the BBC and with numerous throwaway interns at his disposal. His couldn’t-care-less comedic timing is nicely contrasted by the group’s frantic desperation in their pitch meetings, with a few twists and turns along the way to supplement. Ironically, the only part I felt didn’t work quite as well as it could was the more serious scene about the gulag story itself which, in a play with so many wacky ideas being thrown around, felt a little tonally jarring. Understandably, any meta-media-satire must seek an emotional core within its premise, yet the lede that is buried here did not feel ultimately satisfying to this reviewer.

Overall, the show is a great time with plenty of laughs, perfectly assisted by the team at Stage@Leeds as well as some mid-show improv riffs on other adjective-assigned animal creations. The terrific cast double up as their own equally talented production team and stretch this short premise to the limits of its comedic potential, without overstaying its welcome. The small theatre served as the perfect setting for the claustrophobic countdown, and the re-writes and changes that have taken place between runs – our reviewers also having covered the original – appear for the better, as the show is tight and funny with minimal tonal drift that often hamstrings similar premises. Fishtale Theatre will be performing Stretched at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the Argyll Theatre from the 5th to the 13th of August, get your tickets for this delightful show here.

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