Returners Show: 33rd Annual Surprise Party!

Thu 13th – Sat 15th October 2011


Helen Catt

at 22:52 on 13th Oct 2011



After a deservedly highly-applauded month long run at the Edinburgh Fringe, at a high profile venue, it was an undeservedly sparse audience that attended the 33rd Annual Surprise Party. The Surprise Party was essentially a very slick, well-executed sketch show with the chemistry that only comes from many weeks of practice and performing the same pieces daily for the whole of August.

It's difficult to pick on any particularly striking performances – the actors gelled together so well that there was no way for anyone to stand above the rest. While Tessa Coates gave a fantastically hilarious performance as the elitist ballet teacher – instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever had a ballet lesson – the background reactions of the rest of the class really lifted the sketch. This was a similar story to every sketch – the main characters from each would deliver their lines with intelligent timing and intonation, but it was the way the group interacted that really made the performance work.

The sketches ranged from the absurd to the erudite, with the fun, witty shorts,“periods from history” epitomising this range. Some of the sketches were wonderfully original and unpredictable – the ones that were less so were performed with genuine proficiency. Judging by the reaction of the audience, I wasn't alone in thinking this. The performers had the ability to instantly win the audience around to their side immediately which meant that the less original material was easily forgiveable by an audience happy to hear familiar jokes well told. And when the writing was original, it was incredibly original.

Amy Annette, in the production of this performance, did an excellent job of choosing the intermediate music, keeping the pace fast and upbeat. There was barely a moment of “dead space” in the performance, with constant changes of topic and pace keeping the audience alert. Interludes between longer sketches with the whole company on stage were filled with shorter, snappy sketches. Occasionally the longer sketches felt as if they dragged a little – the Hollywood disaster movie sketch being an example – but on reflection this was probably more due to the impressively succinct nature of many of the other sketches.

Overall this was a production definitely worth the entry price - £4.50, or £4 for DST members – which, considering the fact that at times they were charging £9.50 in Edinburgh, is definitely a good deal.


Joe Leeman

at 23:42 on 13th Oct 2011



I didn’t quite know what to expect when I walked into the Assembly Rooms to attend the 33rd Annual Surprise Party; however the range of comical topics touched upon meant that the production will appeal to all those open to the idea of being entertained.

From the outset, the ability of the performers to portray the characters of each sketch allowed the audience to become immersed into the show. The snappy nature of the sketches allowed for full appreciation of the themes covered, avoiding the risk of having an unpopular sketch impinge upon the overall performance.

Although many of the sketches in the production exuded originality, a selection of them have familiar aspects to other companies; however this was by far compensated for by the enthusiasm from each member. In parts, the atmosphere of the production suffered due to minor setbacks in the performers’ ability to restrain their laughter, causing unnecessary breaks noticeable by the audience - though this also provided a friendly and informal impression which some might enjoy. One thing that was particularly noticeable was the quantity of material that was literature based, meaning that those who have an interest in literature found certain sketches more entertaining.

Harry Bresslaw’s versatile performance provided a humorous aside to the main focus of many sketches through his particular talent of female impersonation, alongside the performance of Tessa Coates who exuded energy throughout and has an extreme ability to engage with the audience. The performance was enhanced by the suiting selection of inter-sketch music, which provided a smooth transition: the apt choices made by producer Amy Annette gave a slick and professional appearance.

Overall I found the performance to be of a particularly high standard with material that can be appreciated on many levels, though the focus on the literature make the whole performance more appealing to those interested in the arts. The show provided a friendly, accessible and energetic experience which, from the volume of laughter throughout, was clearly well received.


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