Jumping The Shark at The Orchard Theatre
Ever thought about writing a sitcom? Well, these five strangers did and they gathered in a bleak conference room in Farnham to learn the tricks of the trade. Despite their differences, there is one thing that links them… the ambition to realise their dreams through comedy. They are booked onto a workshop with the ‘finest sitcom writer of a generation’; Frank Donohue. He has flown in from Los Angeles to conduct a seminar teaching his five lucky disciples how to write the perfect sitcom. During the class, their everyday lives are exposed revealing mix ups, farcical revelations and gut-wrenching tragedy.
From the writers of BBC hits My Family, Two Pints of Lager & A Packet of Crisps, and co-creator of the West End and touring sensation Round The Horne… Revisited David Cantor and Michael Kingsbury call it a celebration of the British sitcom.
Despite featuring faces you’ll probably recognise from popular TV programmes including Eastenders, Doctors, The Office and The Inbetweeners, this 6-hander struggles to deliver anything other than a series of comedy cliches. Each character is stereotypical of a by-gone comedy era; however it lends itself to a range of situations that still feature in comedy today. It provides the audience with an insight into the methods of comedy writing and we discover the meaning of the title of the play ‘Jumping the Shark’.
In Act 1, the audience are taken on a sitcom retreat through Donahue’s monologue, with many references to previously successful (and not so successful) situation comedies. The monologue quotes many famous lines from historic British sitcoms but almost all of these would be lost on anyone under 50. We remember some of these with a lot of affection and a lingering smile but some remind us how out-dated the comedy is now. Depending on the profile of the audience, these references add to the enjoyment of the play, taking them on a nostalgic journey. However, it was also clear that some of the audience felt very differently.
During the first act we discover more about the characters:
- Pam (Sarah Moyle) – a bored housewife who is stifled and ignored by her husband
- Morgan (Harry Visinoni) – a young activist who communicates in rhyme and is dominated by his mum
- Dale (Jack Trueman) – the ‘Geezer’ with the banter and the jewellery
- Gavin (Robin Sebastian) – the desperate middle-aged actor, still desperate for stardom
- Amy (Jasmine Armfield) – the young writer who has had her previous ideas stolen
- Frank (David Schaal) – the Workshop Leader and Comedy Writer
During the interval there was discussion around where the play was headed and we hoped for a comedic lift and Act 2 did deliver that. The second act was much more varied and pacier as it focussed on each character individually sharing their own comedy scene ‘homework’. Although, unfortunately, it did unfold in a fairly predictable way. Each character performs a scene which reveals more of their personal situation in varying degrees of both light-hearted and darker comedy settings.
Each actor delivers a believable and engaging character with particular mention of Sarah Moyle, whose portrayal of Pam hit all the right notes, she has a natural comedic presence on stage.
Overall, the play was lacklustre, the atmosphere was rather flat and the laughs were more titters than giggles. Despite this being a celebration of sitcoms of the past, the star rating reflects a play that lacked relevant content and comedy for a performance in 2023.
Review by Nicki Garlick and Shan Lawrence
Jumping The Shark is on at The Orchard Theatre until the 25th February. You can find out more and book tickets here.