The Joke (Camden People's Theatre)

An Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman get trapped in a joke in Will Adamsdale’s new play

The Joke
The Joke
© Brian Roberts

It's quite hard to review Will Adamsdale's The Joke without dropping spoilers. Taking as it's starting point the age-old joke that goes "there was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman…", what then follows is like an episode of "Who's Line Is it Anyway?" scripted by Samuel Beckett in an unusually good mood.

At the outset, the three men – English (Adamsdale himself), Irish (or rather, "NORTHERN Irish" as he keeps insisting: Lloyd Hutchinson), and Scottish (Brian Logan, who is also artistic director of this venue) – are in a state of considerable panic at being locked in a room together, with no apparent means of escape, and no clue as to what is going on. We, the audience, are initially acknowledged but then dismissed as hopeless. Had the show gone on much longer I think I may have agreed with that assertion. After much bickering – some very funny, some not so much – it dawns on the men that they themselves are the set up for a classic joke, and they proceed to act out a number of possible permutations of the gag, using various makeshift props and set pieces. An inflatable palm tree takes a real battering.

In the course of the 80 minutes, every national stereotype is ironically trotted out, often to great comic effect (Hutchinson and Adamsdale try and sell Logan the idea that his Scotsman needs to be permanently drunk, while Adamsdale has a very funny offstage, but all too audible, meltdown that suggests the old English stiff upper lip is all a front) and the trio end up in a make-shift lifeboat (a very clever effect, exquisitely lit by Ian Scott) with only a box of TicTacs for nourishment. Despite some laugh-out-loud moments and being consistently watchable, the show is too esoteric to be truly satisfying as a piece of theatre, at least to this audience member.

The superb, high-energy performers work tremendously well together however, and are nicely contrasted: Adamsdale is all surface affability giving way occasionally to unbearable angst, Logan is enormously likeable but prone to fits of anger that can be quelled only by a quick blast of The Proclaimers, and Hutchinson is a strong presence that anchors the trio.

Ultimately, I wasn't sure what point The Joke was trying to make. Too jokey to be profound, and too cerebral to be pure entertainment, it falls between two stools. It is still a pleasure to spend time with such a consummate trio of talent however.

The Joke runs at Camden People's Theatre until 4 June.