Imagine the scenario a robot takes over the comedy world. It sounds like a nightmare does it not. Well that is exactly the scenario John McGlade and co writer Keir McAllister came up with for one of most groundbreaking shows I’ve seen in a very long time.
It was the last Saturday of the fringe that I finally got round to seeing this show which was on my must see list The show’s location at Stand 6 meant it was within walking distance of Edinburgh bus station. Well I had made a promise to John that I would come to see the show and believe me I wasn’t disappointed. This was a chuckle feast from beginning to end and it is easy to see why it had been getting five star reviews all through the fringe. However this was comedy with a very serious measage.
Our story starts in a prison cell where a professor and failed stand up comedian no it isn’t Tony Blair (though I will admit there are similarities) is being interviewed about a suspicious incident by a female police officer played by Jo Jo Sutherland who graduated with honours from the Margaret Thatcher charm school. The police officer asks the professor what he can remember about the event of the previous night. When he claims he can remember nothing the officer tries to jog his memory by talking comedy
You see the professor (Joe McTernan) also tried his hand at comedy with less than perfect results in fact most audiences who saw him thought he was crap. This was a fact our caring sharing community copper never tired of reminding him during his interview and this was what led him to develop the world’s first ever comedy robot which would by judging the demographic of the room would could up with the perfect comedy routine to maximise laughter on any given night.
When pressurised by our own version of Juliet Bravo the professor admitted after initial denials that he did have an accomplice in his crazy comedy capers and that accomplice was a technological whizz kid nicknamed the engine who was a regular attender at his gigs and knew just how bad our deluded professor actually was.
As the story unfolds it emerges that far from being an individual project this was very much a team effort. It had to be as the young techno expert has the skill base that his elder acquaintance so clearly lacks and as a regular attender at comedy nights he reckons he knows where the professor is going wrong and why he is not having the success he so clearly craves
The engine then informs our would be comic genius, that it’s his arrogance that’s his achilles heel when it comes to audience reaction as he tends to talk at people rather than to them. The engine then claims to know the secret to successful comedy which he claims would transform the comedy world and appealing to the professor’s vanity claims that they worked together to invent the world’s first comedy robot then they would change forever the future of comedy as we understand it. There are occasions when things happen because of the meeting of two great minds. This despite the professor’s delusions wasn’t one of these occasions. This was more of a warning of what happens when two not so great minds meet and the calamitous consequences than can and do result from it.
As the engine explains to the professor who really goes to comedy clubs and how that impacts on who gets the most laughs they decide this comedy robot will be called F.R.A.N.C. which stands for fully reactive, automated, non alcoholic, comedian. As they program this comedy monster little do they realise the power it will unleash on the comedy circuit. Though at least initially F R A N.C is a huge success there is a sense of foreboding that they may have bitten off more than they chew as due to its success the comedy robot is an overnight sensation. Soon there are demands for this new comedy creation to appear on chat shows and share its wisdom voiced through its creator with the wider public. It is at this point that things start to spiral out of control, and lead to the incident which finds the professor being interviewed by the police.
It was an evening chat show when FRANC went too far and when quizzed about the one woman in the audience who wouldn’t laugh at this perfectly constructed material Ruthlessly turning on the girl, FRANC showed no compassion or empathy with her and instead not only named her but rounded on her and openly taunted her about her weight. For the girl concerned, who was at home watching the program with her mother this was final straw and on retreating to her life after a very personal humiliation she quietly ended her life.
As I said this was a brilliant show but believe me this show used humour to promote a very powerful message. This message is I think an important one and in our image based society it is one we need to listen to and one we ignore at our peril.
You see power when used in the wrong way can lead to arrogance and can corrupt people very quickly leading them to believe that they are more important than others. It is when this mindset sets in we the beginnings of labelling and stereotypes that brought about the end of FRANC and the ultimately the professor. To me this kind of imposed value judgement is always wrong no matter what the circumstances. As far as I’m concerned the only kind of labelling that will ever be acceptable is on our food or on our clothes and the only stereotyping which will ever be fit for purpose will be when someone is blasting out some tunes whilst typing furiously at their keyboard.
Of all the shows I saw at Edinburgh 2016 of which there were 40 in total, it was this one on the final Saturday of the festival that was my most expensive ticket so when I say that this polished professional performance was worth every penny it is not a compliment given lightly but it is one which was earned and deserved. I have to say that this show was not only funny, it was also thought provoking, and in parts challenging as it forced all of those in the audience to take a look in the mirror and examine ourselves and the way we view others
So I conclude my review by congratulating the writers Keir McAllister and my friend John McGlade on producing a brilliant innovative piece of theatre which was not only entertaining but educational and inspiring and a highly talented cast of actors for bringing their show to life.
Love And Best Wishes