Review by: Nadia Ribot-Smith
The Leeds University Tealights performed at the Eldon last night, presenting the first incarnation of their sketch comedy show, ‘The Sixth Sense’.
Amateur comedy can be as polarising as performance comes—the line between good and bad both subjective and glaring. Those that know me are familiar with the fact that I do not watch comedy. There’s something about the constant tension, the pauses for you to laugh, the silent pressure to respond to the jokes that seem contrived. As we seat ourselves at the front for the first performance of Leeds Tealights sketch comedy show, my nerves were on edge for both the artists but also myself. What if it doesn’t land? How do you write a review for a comedy that you didn’t find funny? I’m so glad I never had to find out.
When I tell you that I laughed more during this show than I have at any comedy I have seen on TV: SNL, Mock the Week, Live at the Apollo. The Leeds Tealights left them looking like amateurs. Acting, writing and effects were executed to such a high standard I had to constantly remind myself and marvel at the fact that this was a student production. Throughout the show, the sketches were ambitious, engaging and varied whilst still maintaining a consistent tone that differed just enough to keep the audience anticipating, but never predicting the next punchline.
A choreographed dance number sets the tone for the absurdist and physical nature of the comedy being performed. The skit presenting itself with self-awareness as the ensemble introduce themselves. Each actor commits fully throughout, playing perfectly into the heightened melodramatic style and surrealism that is required for the full effect of the jokes to land. The sketches bound with energy, a combination of fantastic acting and brilliant writing. The jokes were inventive, consistent and the tone electric, the dialogue and action zipping quickly and smoothly.
A variety of scenes play out, from a captor’s stage fright before filming a murder video, to a trip to the dinosaurs who turn out to be a lot mouthier than historians might have you believe. Time and time again, The Tealights pull off the truly difficult task of developing an idea into a full 3-minute sketch whilst still maintaining the humour and appeal of the original concept. Each sketch introduces an entirely new premise and never relies on the momentum of previous sketches to carry it through.
Another element which elevates the production is its commitment to making this truly an ensemble piece. Each actor is given a chance to shine, the sketches taking turns to highlight the talents of everyone, and the production is stronger for it. The various combinations of actors all bring something unique and intriguing to riff off. A few impressions break up the more narrative based sketches and allow those performing to really shine, ‘Nigella on Blue Peter’ standing out as one of most cohesive skits, blending physicality with a great premise.
Importantly, the show is never mean. It never relies on shock value or cheap punchlines to get a reaction and is proof that you don’t have to be controversial to produce great comedy.
Overall, The Tealights have tapped into a winning formula and succeeded in finding their own distinct voice in a medium which could easily be overwhelming with its unlimited artistic possibilities. Irrespective of genre, they’re one of the few groups whose performance I imagine whose would hit exactly same way in front of a stage of 4,000 as it would an audience of 40. True to its spontaneous and casual tone, there will be no recording, no live stream. Once it is performed tonight, it’s gone, back into the artistic ether. So, get yourself down there and catch it before its run ends.