Casual Violence: Choose Death Edinburgh Preview – 4 stars

New Red Lion Theatre, London.

The New Red Lion in Islington is ‘London’s newest comedy venue’, and on Saturday night played host to James Hamilton and his “tragi-comedy sketch bastards” Casual Violence, for the only London preview of their Edinburgh show. Having seen this group perform in the past, I was looking forward to this hour of new material anyway, but the evening was even further enhanced by Adam Riches as a support act.

From the moment he was introduced – as Daniel Day-Lewis – he bounded onto the stage from the back of the room and launched into his routine as the self-aggrandising and ridiculously loud actor. For the entire 20 minute set he displayed a wonderful rapport with his audience and we barely stopped laughing. Great jokes, deceptively clever lines, but also wonderful moments of slapstick such as getting three audience members up to throw him into the crowd in order to demonstrate his range – “The further you can throw me, the better my range as an actor”!

Riches is obviously a confident performer, and his ease and enjoyment on the stage is infectious. Even sound effect failures didn’t throw him; in fact he seemed to revel in dealing with the technical hitches, weaving the sound operator into an ad-libbed routine delivered to the back of the room.

I am genuinely sorry that, in all the years I’ve been going to Edinburgh, I’ve never seen an Adam Riches show. This year I’ll do something about that. If you know his work then you didn’t need me to tell you any of this, but if you don’t I urge you to go and see him – either in Edinburgh or at one of his upcoming London previews.

Casual Violence’s new show, ‘Choose Death’ is a collection of dark, absurd, sometimes grotesque characters who keep returning to tell us their story. There are plenty of laughs, but the writing also serves up a sprinkling of pathos and even despair, which sits nicely within the themes of the show and never feels overdone, nor detracts from the comedy.

This is in no small way thanks to the acting talent of the whole cast who approach everything they do with complete conviction. Whether they’re playing a dumb clown whose girlfriend has recently died, a pair of Siamese twins hit men, stuffed dead relatives on display in a country house, or an eastern European bubble gun salesman with a Yosser Hughes approach to seeking better employment, they commit to every scene they’re in, always playing the character and situation rather than playing for an easy laugh. I particularly enjoyed Luke Booys’ portrayal of a 1920’s style low-life gangster with no arms (called Bad Legs); his energy and intensity managed to be controlled and precise and yet wonderfully over-the-top. That gangster scene in particular, but many others too, were added to by Adam D Felman, who provided an understated yet nicely complimentary accompaniment on piano.

My one main criticism is that a few of the scenes are slightly too long, which meant that they petered out slightly and weren’t as punchy as they could have been. But otherwise Casual Violence have a very good, very polished show. They are on at Just the Tonic at The Store in Edinburgh this year, so if you’re there in August and you’re looking for some “death-based sketch comedy”, my advice is: Choose Casual Violence.

(originally posted 3 August 2011)

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