The Canon: A Literary Sketch Show

Sat 2nd – Mon 25th August 2014


Georgina Wilson

at 09:25 on 8th Aug 2014



Justin Blanchard does not spin on his stomach on top of a table in a green velvet jacket exuding "Keatsian negative capability". Like the rest of his cast he exudes positive comic capability throughout the range of sketches that make up literary sketch show "The Canon".

Any English student will enjoy the sketches on the traumas of being Anne "the other" Bronte sister, a Barthesian re-reading on Harry Potter, or the sheer density of Shakespearean quotes that penetrate what is ostensibly a football commentary. And at the Edinburgh Fringe, finding a "niche" literary audience is hardly a problem.That said, "The Canon", also does great work blasting the canon to pieces and includes sketches on 50 Shades of Grey, Monty Python and Twilight.

All of the cast were very good at what they did. Particular mentions have to go to the exceptionally versatile Georgia Wagstaff, and David Matthews as the seductive and fickle library book available for readers to "rifle through" and "dig deep" at their leisure.

The sketches were consistently of a high enough quality for it to be very clear where the punchline was - though this was helped by slick lighting used to divide up one piece from the next. That said, the show was held together as a cohesive whole by recurring motifs: Dickens' new book "15 Minute Meals" reappears in a post-marital Darcy household, and "the objectification of women" is riotously mocked with the actresses occasionally appearing in the cameo role of "Seat" or "Hatstand".

The modernists came in for a great deal of banter - Virginia Woolf rocks up to the estate agent only to have trouble picking a room of her own - ("Green Gables?" "I hate gingers"). Another fantastic figure, again played by the vivacious Justin Blanchard, is James Joyce with his "900 pages of nothing". He finally persuades a publisher to accept Ulysses based on "the sexy bits at the end" - as good an explanation as any for this anomalous phenomena.

If you've had enough of literary pretentiousness at Edinburgh this show makes a delightful mockery of the whole thing. If you're all for literary pretentiousness you'll equally enjoy the tribute to the gloriously self-indulgent life of an English student.

The show is by no means flawless - a few times members of the cast get the giggles, and in a string of so many sketches inevitably some are more uproariously funny than others. But nobody minds these tiny niggles. After all, You Only Live Once in this "apres-po po-mo world".


Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 11:37 on 8th Aug 2014



It is a testament to a comedy show’s prowess, both in its writing and its execution, when, after weeks of rehearsals and performances, the actors still find it funny. This was clearly the case with today’s cast. By No Mean Feat, a production company from Cambridge University, has devised a show that is not only side-splittingly funny in parts, but is also clever, relevant and fun. The sketches, all ridiculous and genius in equal measure, whipped through the procession of literary characters with wit, style and panache.

The jokes were heavily founded, and reliant on, a knowledge of literature, writers and theory, and was therefore an English student’s heaven. Featuring everyone, from Dickens to Rowling, sending them up with equal gusto, and featuring pretentious comments about literature as both a subject and an art form, this show had it all. It featured crazy professors, struggling writers and erotic novels (literally), thrusting them into all manner of incongruous situations – Shakespeare-related football commentary, anyone? Saying that, it managed to be intelligent without being so high-brow that it was tedious.

Every one of the members of the cast did a fantastic job; Raphael Wakefield was hilarious as a disillusioned Charlie Bucket, and Georgina Wagstaff, as well as sporting an absolutely fabulous haircut, performed every role - from an awkwardly polite Mrs Darcy to an overexcited Literary Theorist - with enthusiasm and confidence. But it was Justin Blanchard who really stole the show. He was spectacular in every role he took on, James Joyce being a particular favourite of mine, despite coming across as ever so slightly crazy, which was undoubtedly the intention.

If anything the show as a whole, the scene changes and props, could have been tightened up. If you have no interest in, or knowledge of literature, then it is probably not for you. As an English student I found it hugely enjoyable, if a little soul-destroying to see so many books being ripped to shreds in their use as props. But overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable piece of comedy, which had me giggling and repeating the jokes for hours after it was over. If you’re looking for something to reaffirm your artistic pretentiousness, while having it simultaneously dismantled, this is the perfect solution. Full of energy and laughs, this is not one to be missed.


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