On Saturday night I sat through four hours, three minutes and twenty-two seconds of theatre. Not multiple fringe shows pushed together, because to include that would add another eighty-odd minutes. No, that was four hours, three minutes and twenty-two seconds of one theatre performance, only briefly interrupted by one toilet break and two trips to the bar (don’t you love it when I share?).
Why did I do this to myself? The initial answer is because I was asked to. And after the first hour I did not think I would stay for four – everyone I knew leaving in that break didn’t help matters much. But after the initial hurdle of adjusting myself to the bizarre and somewhat psychotic world I found myself in, I felt myself falling into and being inextricably attracted to Brown Council and A Comedy. It took me the first hour to get what was happening, the second hour to get in to it, the third hour to appreciate it, and by the fourth I was lost in uproariousness.
The four members of Brown Council – Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley & Diana Smith – have five acts to show us: Slapstick, Dancing Monkey, Cream Pie, Stand Up, and Magic Trick. They all involve varying levels of embarrassment and pain, the anti being notched up every time an act is repeated through the hour.
When do we see each act? That is up to us. The audience sitting in their dunces hats are asked to yell out and vote on which act to see next. A Comedy isn’t just a show which asks for audience participation: it needs it, it demands it. So the differing dynamics of the hour-to-hour audience greatly changed the vibe in the room. That became part of my fun in sitting through four hours: watching an audience dynamic change; watching the cast loosen into the night with a couple of beers; feeling the audience loosen into the night with their beers and repetition of the hours; experiencing myself surrendering to the Brown Council, to the insanity, to the laughter.
Every hour the host changes, and the remaining three women move cycle around who is going to perform the next act. When not performing, they sit at a table covered bananas, peanuts, a keyboard, and a counting up clock.
Rather than being a source of antagonism, the ticking clock became a friend. Knowing exactly how long we had to wait for a break on the hour, or until the four hours were up became comforting. When you know there is thirty-seven minutes left, or two hours and fifteen minutes left, or three hours and eight minutes left it becomes easier to deal with. Three hours and eight minutes is a long time, but it’s easier to know than to not know.
It is the known that I came to appreciate as the show went on which made it easier to watch, changing it from A Comedy to a comedy. Some things never got easier to watch – Magic Trick became increasingly painful as the night went on, I started to worry a bit when I had run out of change for the Dancing Monkey (things I never thought I’d say at a bar include “Could I get my change in coins for the monkeys?”) – but in watching Brown Council repeating acts I became more aware and accepting of the ritual and repetition.
Accepting that Slapstick had been done dozens of times before made watching it okay: more akin to watching a game than watching a torture. While our hosts always introduced the show by assuring us they were always in control, it was only through watching Brown Council going through the motions (always performed with energy and a healthy (?) dose of menace) that I could accept that. And in accepting that, it became less painful to laugh.
Sometimes it was hard to convince myself they were in control. They must know what is suggested when they don blindfolds and stand in the half-light on a stage lined with tomatoes. It’s not like it’s the first time they’re doing the show. They must be for throwing. Right? They expect that, right? It’s okay, right? I did it; I threw some tomatoes. I’m not proud of it. But I don’t regret it either.
Part of the fun in laughing at this show is knowing that perhaps it’s wrong to laugh, and it’s probably certainly wrong to throw tomatoes at people. But some of the fun is also knowing that it’s really really funny to watch people make painful idiots of themselves. Fun comes from knowing that maybe it’s wrong, but it is oh so right.
And, yes, increased alcohol consumption doesn’t hurt either.
Over the night emerged my favourite: Cream Pie. I think perhaps through everything the cream pie remained relatively innocent, innocuous, painless. Funny. And it turns out I really do find people covered in cream hilarious.
I also, it was discovered, like throwing cream pies at fellow audience members rather than cast members (It was lovely to meet you Brett. I’m not even sorry a little bit.), and oh is getting retaliated against fun.
A Comedy is certainly the show I am most glad I went to this Fringe so far. I was loopy by the end of the four hours. I have no idea how Brown Council make it though alive. I am certainly glad I survived. “Endurance” and “theatre” aren’t two words you hear together everyday. This might be your only chance.
Vitalstatistix presents A Comedy, by Brown Council. Devised and performed by Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley, and Diana Smith. Dramaturg Daisy Brown, outside eye Julie Anne Long, costume Alia Parker, sound Fred Rodrigues, graphic design Quills and Bamboo. At the Queens Theatre, remaining performances March 9 and 11. More information and tickets.