Review by Encore Michigan
Spotlight on British Comedy
Laughter, it’s often said, is the universal language. To prove the point, the show “British Heroes of Comedy”, currently being presented at the Mangiamo Italian Grill in Saline, begins with a series of amusing pranks and pratfalls that contain nary a spoken word. Included are such comedic staples as a pie in the face and the equally classic tumble caused by a carelessly discarded banana peal. From there, the show proceeds to take a jaunty excursion down the halls of British comedy, with special emphasis on sketches made famous by some of the best of the genre.
Laughter may indeed be universal, but the way the Brits play the game can certainly be an acquired taste. Sitcoms have conditioned American audiences to expect a laugh every thirty seconds or so. British humor (or humour, as the Brits seem to enjoy adding unnecessary letters to their words) has a way of building slowly and, just as ironically, ending abruptly and without resolution. British humor has been characterized as dry, deadpan and self-deprecating. Satire and innuendo usually top the bill, and it’s never surprising to find a proper English gentleman dressed in the most god-awful drag as part of the entertainment.
Fortunately, “Heroes” spares us the tacky man in drag. Though some of the sketches are more successful than others, all of them have that unique flavor that can only be found in British comedy. “The Boxer and the Painter” is a classic sketch originally done by Peter Sellers and Dudley More. The skit, here featuring Brent Logfren and Richie Slater, has a prize fighter combining fisticuffs with modern art, a switch which he easily accomplishes by punching at a blank canvas with his inked boxing gloves. “Jewelry”, featuring Fran Potasnik and Carrie Sayer, is about two women hocking trinkets on a television show (think QVC) and the insipid dialogue that’s exchanged between them as they go about selling their wares.
A skit drawn from a Monty Python routine has a man returning an obviously dead parrot to the store and having to deal with a clerk who insists the parrot is alive but merely out of sorts. “Elementary Courting”, originated by Rowan Atkinson who’s known for his work on the sitcom “Mr. Bean”, is a hilarious mime about the do’s and don’ts of what should and shouldn’t be done when a young man is attempting to seek the favor (again, read “favour”) of a young lass. One of the best sketches, another classic from the Peter Sellers playbook, has Adrian Diffey playing Richard III soliloquizing, not from Shakespeare, but from the lyrics of the Beatles’ song “A Hard Day’s Night”.
“Heroes” is a multi-media presentation. Clips of Charlie Chaplan are shown at the beginning accompanied by a rendition of “Send in the Clowns”. Snippets from the movie “Dr. Strangelove” are interspersed with a skit called “So Little Time”, where a statesman is seen apologizing by phone to a representative of a country which is about to be nuked. Act Two has a few musical moments with a couple of songs from “Spamalot”: “I’m All Alone”, which she’s not, and the rousing show closer “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, which you should.
Conceived, directed and produced by Adrian Diffey, who’s also part of the five-person cast and was a big part in the success of “The Foreigner” last year at the Encore Musical Theatre playing Charlie Baker, the show is based on the British television series “Heroes of Comedy”. ‘Mind the Gap’ Productions, a venture of Diffey and his wife Fran, are the presenters of the show.
“Heroes” is a smashing night’s entertainment, and you’re sure to find much that will tantalize and titillate. The Mangiamo Grill’s meal includes hors d’oeuvres before the show, a buffet dinner at intermission, and cannoli for desert. The buffet features garden salad, three kinds of delicious pastas, and homemade garlic rolls. A cash bar is available.
“Heroes of British Comedy” runs through April 26th. Tickets are available by calling the restaurant at 734-429-0020. Mangiamo’s Italian Grill is located at 107 West Michigan Avenue in downtown Saline.
“Heroes of British Comedy” brings sketch comedy to Michigan
REVIEW April 02, 2016 David Kiley
NORTHVILLE, Mich.–British comedy teams and the U.K.’s genre and tradition of sketch comedy is unique, and sometimes doesn’t export very well. Sometimes it does. Heroes of British Comedy, produced by Mind The Gap Productions and running now at The Marquis Theatre in Northville has a bit of both.
Those who love the comedy of Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, Rowan Atkinson, Monty Python and Dudley Moore should like Heroes just fine, as the excellent cast achieves a very good batting average across 23 sketches that span about two hours with an intermission.
Writer and director Adrian Diffey is clearly passionate about the topic. A Brit himself, Diffey appears in many sketches, and we even get a glimpse of him as a younger man doing a Peter Sellers bit in a British pub with another actor via a film clip projected on the Marquis’ screen. There are a handful of other film clips in the show, including those from Charlie Chaplin, Sellers and John Cleese, which are blended with the live acts.
One of the key differences between British sketch comedy and that which has been popular in the U.S. (think The Carol Burnett Show, the Dean Martin Variety Show) is that British comedy is often not knee-slapping funny. It is more wry and subtle. It is often more likely to generate a grin and a giggle than a belly laugh. Take a bit originally done by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore about two British blokes so intent on making small-talk, being polite and well-mannered in the British way that they have a conversation about one another’s lives despite the fact that they have never met before.
There are some modern bits too, and the women of British comedy are represented. A sketch from present-day English comedian Fiona Allen about the absurdity of ordering coffee in a modern coffee shop is explored. And there is a bit of singing in the show, too. “All Alone” from Spamalot, for example, is sung and acted. A particularly funny sketch is “Phobia Workshop,” which brings together people of various phobias that all conflict to merry mayhem.
The ensemble–Diffey, Fran Potasnik, Carrie Jay Sayer, Jeannine Thompson, Dale Vandrese, Stephen R White and Richie Slater–handle the material deftly. Diffey’s mixing in of film clips of Chaplin, Sellers, Cleese, etc. works to connect the older work to the more modern work, and show how comedians of the 1960s were influenced by Chaplin, and how comedians of the 90s were influenced by those of the 60s.
Anyone who has ever watched Saturday Night Live, or even Monty Python, knows that not every sketch lands. Just like a baseball game, there are hits, strike outs, homeruns and errors. A couple of the sketches could have been edited out. But humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And I heard laughs during sketches that didn’t quite move me. Likewise, I giggled at times where others didn’t.
The Marquis Theatre is a charming, historic venue, though probably a bit too vast for sketch comedy. The show would feel a bit better at a smaller, club-like atmosphere. But finding the right performing space can be tricky. In any case, I had never been to the Marquis, so I was glad to visit a new venue.
This show is actually Heroes of British Comedy 2, as Mind The Gap performed a smaller version of the show last year in Saline. The nice thing about this material is that there is an endless supply of it do draw from. Diffey can learn from experience which bits land, and which do not, with Michigan audiences, and continue to hone the offering.
British Comedy at Northville’s Marquis Theatre
Posted on April 6, 2016 by It’s All Theatre
By Daniel Skora
It is, after all, England that we’re talking about, the country across the pond that with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men still couldn’t control that ragtag bunch of colonists who went on to thumb their noses at the men in red, declaring their independence in the process. The British are different from us, indeed, and that difference extends not only to what they think is funny, but how they respond to what they think is. They wheeze, they chortle, they giggle and guffaw. They chuckle, they snicker, they titter and snort. But laugh out loud with a belly shaker like Santa Claus? No Way. Picture Charles Coburn, with his monocle and rumpled suit, who may have been born American but came across in the movies as more British than most of the Brits.
To show you what the British think funny, Mind the Gap Productions have put together “Heroes of British Comedy – Part II”. The show is a series of sketches made popular by some of the finest of British comics. It’s a multi-formatted show, beginning with film clips of the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers doing what they did best in the movies. It segues over to a short history of comedy and the joke, offering up a brave trio (one, by the way, braver than the others) having a go at the comedy staple, the banana peel slip, and everybody’s favorite, the pie-in-the-face.
“Heroes of British Comedy” has been compiled by director, producer, and actor Adrian Diffey. The reason it’s a Part II is because there was a prior version performed not too long ago at a dinner theatre in Saline. Diffey has carved into the previous version, eliminating some sketches and adding others. It’s fitting that the show is being presented at Northville’s Historic Marquis Theatre. Charlie Chaplain, clips of whom are shown at the beginning of the show, once appeared live at the theatre in the 1920’s when vaudeville was king and the Marquis was known as the Penniman Allen Theatre.
The show is an eclectic mix of song, video, and sketches, all owing their origins to British comedic stalwarts like Dudley Moore, Peter Sellers, Rowan Atkinson, and Monty Python, among others. In one sketch, a woman sings the praises of the peace and quiet to be found in the great outdoors with the song “All Alone” from “Spamalot”, until she discovers that the woods isn’t as peaceful and quiet as she thinks. Two blokes in a pub have a spirited conversation about a relationship over a couple of mugs of Guinness, their dialogue more than a bit similar to the lyrics of the Beatles song “She Loves You”. A prize fighter appears to be having more success pounding away at a painter’s canvas than he may ever have had as a boxer. And a skit called “Blackberry” pokes some pun-acious fun at words like blackberry and apple that used to be names for fruit before they were hijacked by the electronics industry (Anyone got a Bluetooth?)
Though the sketches as a whole achieve varying degree of success, you’re bound to find several of the more than twenty to tickle your funny bone. One quality that many of them have that can be unnerving to American audiences is their lack of a punch line or a resolution to the situation at hand. The seven member ensemble includes Diffey, Fran Potasnik, Carrie Sayer, Richie Slater, Jeannine Thompson, Dale Vandrese, and Stephan R. White.
There are two performances of Heroes of British Comedy remaining, Friday April 8th and Saturday April 9th. Performances are being held at the Marquis Theatre in Northville. Tickets are $15 at the door or can be purchased with a Visa or Mastercard by calling the Marquis Theatre box office at 1.248.349.8110 between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Marquis Theatre is located at 135 E. Main in Northville.