A Joke – Assembley Rooms

Image contribution: Universal Arts

Written by Dan Freeman

This review was part of the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

How does the classic go again? An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman (via the Atlantic) walk into a bar, or was it an island? A health clinic, no, it was a crashing plane, wasn’t it? Regardless, Dan Freeman’s A Joke navigates us through the construct of a joke, but more so life. An absurdist piece where humour is born grows, evolves and yes, sadly dies. Much more than this though, Freeman’s text talks to us more about our attitudes towards the pairing of life and humour. 

An empty canvas, nothing more than some furniture covered in sheets, and the stage is set. The real attraction here is our cast, three exponentially gifted performers all of whom deliver stellar performances. Sylvester McCoy’s charismatic Irishman serves as the ideal go-between for Robert Picardo’s American – but 57 times removed Scotsman – and The Englishman portrayed by John Bett, the latter delivering consistent eruptions from the audience. Together their chemistry is faultless, ricocheting off one-another sublimely.

In the pale crispness of the betwixt world they inhabit, the three have nothing to debate but their own existence. They struggle with the (lack of) reality of the situation, questioning if they are denizens of a joke, a story or indeed the final punchline: death. The play’s gradual climb is satirical. Like any decent joke, it begins jovially but steadily takes a more serious, darker tone, even if it becomes more convoluted in its approach.

So, who is the joke truly on? Certainly not the audience. These are three accomplished artists of their medium giving it their all. A Joke is rather akin to the infamous Aristocrats joke, a joke which is notoriously lengthy, twisting and turning and revealing that the real enjoyment isn’t from the eventual gag, but from the journey.

Review originally published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-fringe/theatre/a-joke-assembly-rooms