Splinters Productions, inspired by Chekhov’s lesser known comic journal ‘Oskolki’, attempts a ‘wacky and off-the-wall’ series of comedic sketches. Having no previous experience with the company I was excited to see what they had to offer. It was soon clear that I wasn’t the target audience, being a good few decades younger than anyone in the room. However, if these sketches were anything like the Victoria Woods or Fry & Laurie I grew up with, I would be rolling in the aisles.
They started off strong, the slow pace deliberate and the comical timings on point. But towards the second act, the actors began to lose focus. I couldn’t blame them. Tucked away in a lesser-known theatre, the audience was sparse to say the least. No one knew when to clap and when they did, it was only for a matter of seconds – definitely not long enough to cover the pauses between sketches. These pauses became stagnant and stale, sucking the atmosphere from the room.
Despite the low mood, the comic duo tried their best to bring the energy. John Shedden and Finlay McLean both armed with a long career in theatre and film, an impressive grasp of accents and a twinkle in their eyes. Shedden’s characters were not as diverse as I would have liked: mostly stiff and underclass. However, his Glaswegian hermit in ‘The Death Artist’ was captured very well. It made me sit up and take notice in a sketch that was otherwise long and tedious with no satisfactory ending. McLean made bigger choices and they all paid off. I found each of his characters lovable and captivating. He even improvised jokes to wake up the shy audience, which I appreciated. It was all too easy to forget this was in fact a comedy.
The short sketches worked the best in my opinion. ‘The Singer’, ‘The Astronomer’, ‘The Eye Test’ and ‘Utopia’ were simple, to-the-point and each gave little pearls of wisdom. The interview with Shylock was also a high point, giving Shakespeare’s most hard-done-by character a moment to defend himself. ‘Hamlet of the Roadworks’ was my favourite: a great character, a simple and relatable premise, and a comical ending with a bang.
But with the diamonds also comes the rough. Talking in unison is always something best avoided and unless rehearsed to death, makes these skilled actors come across as amateur. The political sketches remained very dry and similar throughout. The repetition of the same jokes we have heard hundreds of times before added nothing. I kept waiting for something new to be addressed but was left disappointed and bored. The Blair and Bush dynamic screams old material and the mention of a big bosomed ‘Grace’ made us groan inwardly.
The connection between skits was shaky at best, like a series of audition monologues stuck together without a deeper meaning. The overall message to ‘go out and live life’ seemed a cop-out, quite frankly. The script kept trying to obtain this profound meaning and at points did achieve this, but with long, drawn-out dialogue and stale observations, even the impressive cast couldn’t make up for it. With work on the script and direction, this show could be a hidden gem, but for now, it remains a rough draft.