REVIEW: THE ORIGINALS OF COMEDY
By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Friday, May 14, 2010.
Angie Le Mar, Miles Crawford, Felicity Ethnic, Leo Muhammad, Felix Dexter and the double act of Jefferson and Whitfield, made their names when groundbreaking sketch shows such as The Real McCoy, and Blouse and Skirt, proved that stand-up comedy from the Black British community is viable and relevant. Those cult shows held up a mirror to an already thriving scene in which the comic talents of new and aspiring performers could be sharpened.
With comedy as the new rock ‘n’ roll, and its stars either treated like royalty or rebels with a cause and commentators on life, it was intriguing to see what these seasoned performers would deliver. Although they didn’t disappoint the packed and upmarket audience in the Barbican auditorium, this is really a journey in nostalgia - with satire, parody, and perceptive observations.
Hosted by accomplished performer Angie Le Mar in a stylish black leather dress free-styling on hair weaves, old school dances, intimidating youths and Tiger Woods, the comedy served up by The Originals is not sophisticated, and not that topical either. Instead, we are treated to mostly recycled routines and a lot of recognition comedy; wayward young people were the enduring theme for the night, with a few comments on the [then] impending General Election and Iceland's volcanic eruption and air travel disruption. For the matured crowd who grew up with these comics routines, the partiality of old school Black parents to beat children were funny a decade ago – and still are. But something fresher and edgier is what we now need.
Not that this crowd was at all deterred, with Miles Crawford’s opening set building immediate rapport with the audience in a complicated act involving the audience’s participation, envelopes, conjuring and illusion - ending with a surely unintended but comical slide across the stage.
Strong Black Woman star Felicity Ethnic, dug deep into the deep well of adult rage against our youth and duo Jefferson and Whitfield displayed singing and musical talents in snappy quickfire sets.
When Leo Muhammad began his powerful and mesmerising performance – in old school comic’s uniform of a box fresh tuxedo - with a commentary on Obama’s presidential acceptance speech’s promise of a puppy for his daughters, I expected a set on topics of the day; but what followed was a warmed up and reheated diatribe on dogs and Black people. Funny for sure, but this griot’s obvious technical skill and command of the stage leave the appetite whetted - not satisfied.
Mixing it up with the recurring topic of unruly kids and keeping it real in a world of hard-to-shake stereotypes, Felix Dexter proved to be the night’s most skilful performer. He appeared to have actually thought about what he wanted to say, kept it fresh and relevant, he merged his materials with a comic persona, well thought-out characters and hilarious routines on the weird and wacky world of being Black and English.
ith confidence, personality and technique, The Originals have it all in abundance, and the status of these pioneers of Black British comedy is guaranteed. Fresher material next time though.
Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.