A comedy show that takes its name from the much-maligned rebranding of that beloved Australian spreadable? A rebranding that was generally agreed to be tacky and even embarrassing? What could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately, iSketch 2.0 from comedy troupe The High Horsemen somewhat stays true to the traditions of its name.
The group, made up of Liz Talbot, Brendan Hall, Nicholas Spinks and Steve Mylonas, is fresh from the UQ Law Revue, where their crude and longwinded sketches about politics, dating, vengeful kittys and much more probably had their Uni friends rolling in the aisles. But the show as a whole is not yet sophisticated enough or professional enough for the Brisbane Powerhouse and the general public.
Luckily, this problem seemed to be solved on opening night, as I got the impression that the sold-out theatre was packed with friends and family of the players. It's a fact that Mylonas actually points out in the opening song, a "we're going to be terrible but we've already got your $22 and now we've locked the doors" ditty to the tune of Taylor Swift's "Love Story". It's cleverly written and Mylonas (who looks a little like English comedian Russell Brand, does anyone else see it?) is a talented musician.
But the idea is very similar to a song I saw genius Irish comedian David O'Doherty open with only a few weeks ago (in the same theatre, no less.) His "Lower your Expectations" was smarter, more self-deprecating. Plus, he's an established comedian who's spent years proving himself in shows all over the world, so you feel pretty confident that his show is going to be awesome, no matter what he says. When the virtually unknown High Horsemen pull out the same "shucks, we probably won't be very good" shtick, it feels slightly smug, and having Mylonas sing it alone is not a strong enough introduction to this ensemble performance.
There were many parts of iSketch 2.0 that felt heavily influenced by other comedians, and not done as well. A song about a man's brief but passionate love affair with that Swiss temptress Ikea made me think of Flight of the Conchords, but without the charming whimsy. And a sketch about two diners battling over who likes their meat cooked the most rare was reminiscent of Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen without the fine balance between absurdity and brilliance that only experienced comedians can bring.
Actually, in all fairness, the writing in the "rare meat" sketch was pretty good, and Hall and Spinks had quite a hilarious rhythm going...until a bizarre ending ruined all the goodness that came before.
In general, The High Horsemen didn't do endings well. Every joke and scene was pushed to its bitter, terrible end. Sketches about parliament question time, Jesus detained in a border control office and a politician's mea culpa went on far too long: long enough for all the sharp humor and observation to have died an awkward death. These drawn-out pieces take the show to almost 90 minutes and make it feel more amateurish.
The staging is also awkward and clunky, with a table and chairs carried on for nearly every second scene and then completely carried offstage for the sketches where they weren't needed. This left the audience sitting in near darkness for sometimes up to 30 seconds, and was completely unnecessary.
I do think the fault here lies with inexperience rather than unfunniness. There were a couple of laugh out loud parts and some original ideas. I thought the massage "happy ending", the consultant who specialises in "uncoupling" (that's "breaking up" to the uninitiated) and an ongoing video sketch of a marriage proposal aboard the Brisbane Wheel were particularly promising. And, in their own way, all the players have on-stage charisma and admirable comic timing.
With more focus on tightening up their work and cementing their own unique style, I'm sure that The High Horsemen will one day be fine examples of Brisbane's growing sketch comedy scene.
The High Horsemen present
A Tale of Comedy and Whimsy
Venue: Visy Theatre
Dates/Times: Fri 16 - Sat 17 Apr 8pm