Speechless is a comedy sketch show with the twist of being completely mimed. Set in a dystopian future where comedic speech is illegal, the players come out with big black crosses over their mouths and perform their show without uttering a word. The only sound comes from the overhead voiceover that they react to, setting the scene and allowing for humour beyond physical comedy. Rarely resorting to clichéd mime acts like the ‘trapped in a box’ act, the show is very original in its conception. Finishing with an inspiring message that ‘even if you’re silenced, you still have a voice’, Speechless is an interesting and thought-provoking watch.
The show opens with a rhythmic mime sequence, where the five actors, miming using typewriters, generate an addictive beat by clapping, slapping, clicking and clacking. These rhythmic sequences, occurring a couple of times during the show, make for some of the most effective sketches and exhibit an exciting and unconventional use of mime.
Indeed, many of the concepts behind the sketches are extremely inspired. Most follow a format whereby a voice over or video plays and the actors silently react to it, and although this runs the risk of becoming a little tedious over the course of the show, the players’ fresh ideas and ways to use the format help to maintain interest.
One sketch, for instance, has audience members reading the script aloud while the actors mime over the top: a simple concept that proves to be extremely funny as the script turns from ordinary conversation to graphic descriptions of ridiculous sex acts. Others are not so successful, especially on a few occasions when the voice over is far funnier than the mime itself – they make the audience laugh, but at that point why bother with the mime?
Some jokes fall flat, as the actors’ comic timing runs amok. Some are able to use silence much more effectively than others, who seem to rush through the scenes as if afraid the audience will get bored. This makes some sketches much harder to follow, as the faster they go the less obvious it becomes what they are trying to mime. As the show progresses, all of the actors seem to relax a little and get into it, but a few early scenes are memorably poorly handled. This is a shame, as by the end of the show it is evident that the script was well-written and the actors more than capable of delivering it well, but a slow start means they have to recover the audience’s interest.
Overall, Speechless has a very interesting premise, and is unlike a lot of popular shows at the Fringe. The players are clearly very enthusiastic, and have written some hysterical gags that get the audience howling. Others, however, are met with little response. A great concept that could have been executed better, Speechless is nevertheless a silent breath of fresh air in the world of the Fringe, and especially in student theatre.
Underbelly Cowgate – White Belly (Venue 61)
Image: Alex Power