Venue: Pioneer Stage, New Century House Where: Manchester
A Yorkshireman (Christopher Chilton) and a Welshman (Simon Holland Roberts) meet in a field waiting for the mysterious Dee to take them to a party. Dee is late so to pass the time the two friends play games of make-believe and commune with nature. When a Girl (Ayesha Gwilt) arrives on her way to the party, the relationship between the friends changes as they each begin to flirt with her and respond to her overtures.
Writer Joyce Branagh plays around with the expectations of the audience. The set-up leads the audience to expect an absurdist comedy as it is very reminiscent of Waiting for Godot. This expectation is made all the more strong by the fact that the characters are dressed as sheep even though they wear also bow ties.
However, instead we get a comedy of gently mis-matched characters. In this type of play the third character usually acts as a catalyst and prompts some kind of change in the friends. This would be appropriate as Gwilt is described as "a whirlwind force of nature" and the point of the show seems to be the need to behave as individuals and not just follow the herd.
However, none of the characters is sufficiently well realised to provide a base from which they can develop. Pretty much all the characterisation that is made available is that Chilton is a hot-headed chap who feels aggrieved very easily and Holland Roberts is more placid and laid back. The script does not provide the relentless flow of gags that the show needs to succeed. At times it is funny peculiar rather than funny ha-ha.
This paucity of jokes compels the cast to work hard for laughs. As a result, the performances have a slightly desperate edge. Chilton, whose character is supposed to be excitable, at times barks out the script as if anxious that no joke should be overlooked. Gwilt takes a similar approach but is more successful as her character seems so clueless as to be almost innocent so her extreme jumps of mood become funny rather than irritating. Holland Robert is able to take a more natural, less strained approach in exploring his mellow character.
Branagh has more success as director. Some of the more successful scenes are those with little dialogue as the friends act out a drag race or a space opera. She needs, however, to encourage her cast to take a more restrained approach and allow the humour to emerge naturally rather than force it out.
The tentative approach taken by the writer prevents Sheepish from being as funny as it might and leaves the audience feeling far from full up.