When I first took my seat in The Wheatsheaf, I took a moment to flick through the advert for Sübverse, the first sketch show from comedy duo Beef Comedy. In a short description the advert promised character-driven comedy and a night of bizarre, outlandish sketches. Not giving much away. I then looked up at the stage, hoping for clues as to what Tommy Hurst and Matt Kenyon had in store for us. Once again, however, I was left in the dark. The small, intimate seating area gave way to a stage, empty except for a single canvas sheet serving as a backdrop and a small box of unidentifiable tricks. I truly did not know what to expect as the lights dimmed and the show began.
Arriving on stage, it was immediately clear that bizarre would be the theme of the night. Hurst and Kenyon were already in character, introducing themselves as former rising stars in the cut-throat world of CBBC whose fall from grace had been instigated by the machinations of Tracy Beaker’s Dani Harmer. The two lamented their current state – from the height of stardom to performing in a weird pub for Oxford w*nkers. They then retreated behind the backdrop and re-emerged as ageing, cantankerous members of a sketch-group who had peaked in the mid-20th Century and whose attempts to recapture their glory days were hilariously undermined by forgetfulness, petty squabbling and communication difficulties. The climax of this sketch, one of my personal favourites, saw one of the two left on stage, endlessly reciting the same three lines from their final sketch, unable or unwilling to move on. This was both incredibly funny but also saddening, hinting at the character’s hidden vulnerability.
Following this, the sketches continued to keep us on our toes. The duo clearly relished the chance to shock the audience with their antics. One sketch saw them consume a whole onion under the apparent influence of the sinister mentalist ‘Abraham G’. Another relied heavily on the one thing I truly dread – audience participation. Adopting the roles of Texan party planners trying to design the perfect party, Hurst and Kenyon tore through the audience, plucking unsuspecting students from their seats and depositing them on the stage, forced to play a role in this perfect party. As someone who prefers live comedy from the safety of his seat, my heart went out to the student forced to endlessly sing John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’. Nonetheless, these scenes allowed the audience to laugh not only at the performers but at themselves.
Comedy is inherently subjective and not every joke will land. That being said, one criticism I would make is that some sketches simply went on too long and relied too heavily on the same joke. One such sketch saw the duo play South African comics and slam poets. Whilst the poetic tribute to Kick Ass 2 was very funny – the reliance on (questionable) comic accents and linking everything to the message of ‘Don’t do Drugs’ did undermine the humour. The same could be said of the mime act towards the end.
Highlights from the show included the stories of what really goes behind closed doors at CBBC and the scandalous behaviour of Hacker T Dog, a rap-battle showdown between public schoolboys (“Big up Harrow”). Another highlight was the surprisingly poignant ending where the two reflected on a running theme of the show – male vulnerability – and used their platform to raise awareness of Movember and of male mental health more generally.
Absurd, lively and occasionally moving – Sübverse was a highly impressive debut.