Best of The Jest, Aces and Eights, London ★★★½

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Comedy troupe The Jest have been making a name for themselves in the tricky world of sketch comedy, with guest spots on Radio 4’s Sketchorama and winning the Leicester Square Theatre Sketch Off. As part of the Camden Fringe, they present an hour of sketches and audience humiliation under the soubriquet of The Best of the Jest as part of this year’s Camden Fringe.

It’s a contractual obligation for sketch-based works to be described as “hit and miss”, and that’s especially true here. There are a variety of different styles of comedy on display here, from Horrible Histories style bad puns and a passable impression of Dame Maggie Smith (Luke Theobald) making a charity appeal on behalf of Judi Dench, to the prolonged embarrassment of the world’s least sexy striptease and a misfiring pastiche of US television news’s appropriation of the hidden camera genre.

One or two of the five-member troupe’s better sketches wear their heritage on their sleeves – a skit about corporate sponsorship of healthcare has the sort of wordplay that Ronnie Barker (writing as Gerald Wiley) would craft for The Two Ronnies, while Ella Ainsworth and Bryony Twydle’s recreation of a well-meaning, but naïve, Theatre in Education duo manages to find a spirited sense of fun in a scenario that is overdone to the point of cliché.

Occasionally, there are flashes of some keenly observed character work, most notably with Theobald’s drunken man who feels his bromance with his best mate is threatened by the latter’s impending wedding. The most rounded character, though, is Twydle’s Vicky Spovell, managing a speed awareness course with a kind of ruthlessness that puts one in mind of The League of Gentlemen’s Pauline, yet still feels fresh. Theobald and Jack Stanley’s West Country Ghost Hunters also feel like they have potential, although their extended sketch needs a bit of work in order to be fully realised.

There are struggles introduced by the venue’s layout, with the pub basement’s corner stage making snappy entrances and exists near impossible. But while there are plenty of misfires, such as a scene imagining Jim Broadbent as a bedtime terroriser of children, there are also plenty of pleasant surprises, such as the difficulties faced by a Dead Poets’ Society (including Shakespeare and Chaucer) struggling to come to terms with meeting Dr. Seuss. There’s a real sense that some of these comedians will go on to much stronger things in future – but while they work together as The Jest, they are still highly watchable.

Best of the Jest continues until August 24