Don’t be Terrible, a show titled after the mantra of this reviewer at every show he goes to see (we want them to be good, really), really has to be decent to live up to its own name. The play, a story of a dull man trying to learn the art of stand-up from a cynical comedian, sadly does not succeed.
A stripped back two-hander, the plot and characters often could do with the substance the staging intentionally lacks. Steve is a ‘standard man’, with no sense of self-awareness on how dull he is, Alice is the cliché unsuccessful comic who doesn’t know how to connect to people, never do we really see them attempt to go any deeper.
The plot follows Steve attempting to learn how to be funny to compete with a work colleague of his girlfriend who always seems to have her in hysterics, and we are led to support him in is attempts, but his sad sack character makes me root for the other guy. His competition may be less nice, but at least he sounds interesting. I accept that an hour isn’t a lot of time to build character and move plot along, but it still feels very thin.
The stand-up portions themselves, interjected throughout mostly from Alice, are competently enough written if somewhat dull open mic fare, the sort of hack material a comic might try for their first few gig whilst they try to learn their voice. The issue is that even from the seemingly professional comic, it never sounds like it’s being performed by a comedian. The delivery and the timing smacks of someone who has never had to gig to a drunken stag do on a Friday night, and comes over too much like an actor pretending to be a comedian. I acknowledge that that is literally what is going on, but it takes you out of the moment far too much, and combined with the lack of laughter from the real audience, kills the illusion anyone would go to her for comedy lessons. This is a shame as the actress playing Alice is clearly very talented in the non stand-up sections, coming across as likeable if caustic, and is by far the best thing about this show. The actor playing Steve is also capable enough, and feels like he could impress if given more to work with.
The final issue I shall take with this show is a small one, but one that I would like to note. In the comedy classes, in with the other questionable advice (I don’t recommend taking notes if you do want to get into stand-up), Alice only gives two quotes from real world acts; Richard Pryor and Chris Rock. Both of these deal with facing adversity in life, and overcoming them with comedy. There is something about this, a well off middle class white man paying to receive wisdom from two black comics who used comedy to overcome their struggles in life, that doesn’t sit well with me.
Overall, this is a technically decent enough theatre piece, that just lacks depth and substance. There may be more mileage if you are less of a comedy fan and just looking for a breezy play to pass an hour, but to comedy-savvy Edinburgh audiences this may be one to miss.
Don’t Be Terrible runs until the 26th of August – buy tickets here.
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