Magazine article The Spectator

Rural Targets

Magazine article The Spectator

Rural Targets

Article excerpt

The Great British Country Fête

Bush, until 14 August

The Great Game: Afghanistan, Part 1

Tricycle, until 29 August

Russell Kane, a rising star of standup, has penned a musical satire with an inflammatory theme. His play opens in a Suffolk village where the locals have risen up against Tesco's attempts to blight the community with a thumping new shopping hub. Excellent subject! Rabid, thoughtless expansionism by supermarkets inspires rage in every corner of the country (apart from London, which couldn't care less). After this superb set-up, the show goes wrong immediately and stumbles off in search of easy targets, facile rustic caricatures - the randy vicar, the gay farmer's boy, the thick ferret-fancier, the racist lady from the WI, and so on. Here are some of Mr Kane's gags. A farmer holds up a jar of home-made jam. 'It's got a hat. So it's like a person.' Later he imagines 'getting a visa and going to Norfolk'. On this cold and heartless page these quips may look weaker than they sounded in real life but they give a measure of the show's creative ambition.

Mr Kane, who seems new to sketch writing, hasn't mastered the art of joke geography and punchline placement. But it's easy to learn. First write the sketch. Then write the sketch ten more times. Then find the best joke to emerge from that process. Then put it at the end of the sketch. That's all there is to it.

The excellent cast, led by Katie Brayben, throw everything they've got at the show and the funniest moments come from the unscripted flourishes and gestures they've added. Towards the end, a high-quality routine appears. A gang of Bulgarian peasants sing an anthem celebrating the emptiness of Bulgarian folk culture. Witty stuff, Mr Kane, but what happened to Suffolk, Tesco, and the plot? Handled with verve and true satirical bite this show could tour the shires for many years, heartening the locals, packing the theatres and engorging the wallets of its happy authors. Instead it's been badly fluffed. But the subject remains and so does the chance to tackle it with the punchy script it deserves. Try again, Mr Kane.

The Tricycle has revived its Oliviernominated investigation of Afghanistan, which is due to tour America this autumn.

I saw Part 1: 1842-1930 Invasions and Independence.

This begins, peculiarly enough, in 1996. A faint air of muddle and disunity hovers over the whole evening.

Fragments of monologue, some modern, some antique, are interspersed with one-act plays of uneven quality. …

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