Venue: The Lowry
Where: Salford

In Service with a Smile 11 - the 11 members of the Workers Theatre Company present 18 short comedy sketches by ten writers. Squeezing so much into an hour-long show requires director Helen Perry to apply both discipline and imagination. Setting the show in an office with the cast in uniform black offers a visual pun on the name of the company (‘workers’ –geddit ?) and allows the ensemble to contribute wordless background support as they await their chance to take part in the sketches. It also moves the show along at a rapid pace.
 
A potential pitfall with shows of this nature is that the cast become self-conscious and make the audience ill at ease. The company are, however, completely relaxed and confident enough to present even the weaker material in the best possible manner.
 
But neither the cast nor the director can save the material that is over familiar or in which the punchlines are so weak that the sketches end with a whimper rather than a bark of laughter. Ella Thomas’s Art Gallery, in which a pretentious critic mistakes an everyday object for a work of art, has been done before. The wordplay in Chris Perera’s Bookshop is excellent but the concept owes a lot to the Two Ronnies’ Four Candles/ Fork Handles sketch. Perera shows just how good he can write– and the variety on offer in the show- with his update of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
 
The best sketches are those in which the concept is intrinsically amusing so there is less dependence on the punchline to get a laugh. Fran Edwards' Posh Talk, in which hairdressers frustrate the expectations of their customers by discussing existentialism and economies instead of football and Eastenders, works so well because the idea is funny and the facial reactions of the customers are hilarious.
 
The show makes excellent use of multi-media. James Britton’s Generic Boyfriend/Girlfriend works even better as a filmed insert than it did as part of last year’s Messrs Comedy.
 
Service with a Smile 11 certainly lives up to its title as the cast perform with infectious enthusiasm. Hopefully if they present a third instalment tighter quality control will be applied to the material.
 
- Dave Cunningham