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February 18, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Who’s Neat? You!


I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the crew that put together Who’s Neat? You! are fans of the League of Gentlemen. The League were a British sketch troupe operating over the cusp of the recent millennium. And they were genius. Dark surreal skits bordering the line between comedy and drama and horror.

One of the sketches they kept returning to was the ongoing saga of a children’s educational theatre company called Legz Akimbo. Legz Akimbo are constantly under the threat of total breakdown. Their off-stage squabbles always manage to make it on stage during their wildly inappropriate shows (Vegetable Soup—a show about the handicapped, for instance). In front of their petrified audiences of primary school children, they will snipe and swear at each other as things get more and more out of hand. And that, on a very superficial level, is what Who’s Neat? You! is too.

Now, let me get something straight. I am not accusing Who’s Neat? You! of plagiarism. They certainly go off in their own direction, especially towards the end. Akimbo was clearly just taken as a starting point. Maybe they just should have masked it a little more, because as hilarious and wonderful as the first half of Who’s Neat? is (and it really is), it did feel to me at points as little more than a highly skilled and profoundly amusing Legs Akimbo tribute.

There is nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve. It’s just when they stain the rest of your laundry that you’ve gotta be careful.

But, before long, Who’s Neat? You! takes a turn, and then it comes it is incredibly satisfying. Saying much more would spoil it, but the change that occurs is brilliantly executed by all involved.

Now, I might not be being clear, so let me state here that Who’s Neat? You! is great and you should really see it. Really really.

The cast (Ralph McCubbin Howell, Erin Banks and Paul Harrop) are uniformly excellent, with impeccable timing and perfect pitch of the absurd without ever becoming mono-dimensional. A special call out must be made to Harrop, whose performance is a layer cake of delight and nuance.

Alex Lodge’s direction speaks of a love for the source material—Life Education classes—as well as a nicely pitched eye for physical comedy. Her use of the site-specific location—a five tonne truck parked behind BATS—is constantly surprising and extremely atmospheric. Tane Upjohn Beatson’s soundtrack strikes just the right level of cheese.

Lucy O’Brien and Howell’s script is deeply witty with a wildly wicked turn of phrase. The only moments where it lets itself down by any means are when the authorial voice creeps in, and the characters start discussing issues which are eerily close to the issues of someone putting on a show in the Fringe rather than people in the characters’ positions. But that is only a minor quibble.

Who’s Neat? You! is a tightly wound ball of wonderful. A simmering ball bearing of comic theatre. The highlight of the Fringe so far.

Who’s Neat? You!
Written by Lucy O’Brien & Ralph McCubbin Howell
Directed by Alex Lodge
With Ralph McCubbin Howell, Erin Banks and Paul Harrop

Part of the 2010 Wellington Fringe

At (well, you assemble there) BATS theatre, 17 Feb–5 March 2010 802 4175

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

Comments (2)

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  1. Charlotte Bradley (Who's Neat? You! Producer) says:

    Thanks for the awesome review Uther! Just for the record: Legz Akimbo was never used as a starting point nor was the show intended as a tribute. In fact, one of the writers had never heard of, or seen it! The often tragic experiences of children’s health education ‘theatre’ must be universal…once again, thanks for the top review.

  2. Uther Dean says:

    You must be right, Charlotte. The inherent tragedy and gawky awkwardness of children’s education theatre must be more universal.

    And to clarify, the comparison with the League was never meant to be any kind of denigration of the show. Comparison or inspiration or not, ‘Who’s Neat? You!’ is a work of supreme skill and talent.

    That there are similarities shows that the same angle can be taken on a particular subject by two separate groups and both of them be equally and legitimately good.

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