Friday, May 17, 2019

Review: 'Witt 'n Camp' at the Soho Theatre, 16th May 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars
Quarter past ten at night turns out to be a very good slot for a Soho comedy/cabaret show. The tourists have scuttled back to their hotels, the clubs are yet to kick into gear, and there's enough time to grab a decent dinner and a few laugh-loosening drinks in. All of which works in Witt 'n Camp's favour. 

Witt 'n Camp are Charlie Howitt and Holly Campbell, who are the full entertainment package: singing, dancing, telling jokes and performing like old school vaudevillians. They serve up a finely tuned hour of entertainment, consisting of songs that are comedy sketches, comedy sketches that are songs and a lot that resists easy categorisation.

The initial impression you get is "what the fuck is going on"? The show opens with the pair in burly policeman costumes stalking around the stage and fighting one another, then mildly antagonising the audience (sit in the front row at your peril). Things only get stranger from there: the pair morphing into sexually unfulfilled Irish chickens, strangely louche hippies and bitchy opera divas.

But though the scope is wide, their talents are consistently (and occasionally jaw-droppingly) impressive. Their opera divas sing with beautiful precision and skill, managing to convert Nicki Minaj's machine-gun pop masterpiece Super Bass into an opera number. These moments and the other numbers in the same vein are some seriously eye-catching work, perfectly showcasing their vocal and creative talents.

Beyond that, things get head-scratchingly odd. There's a multi-part saga about bored and murderous cannibalistic chickens that's set to lilting folk strings, featuring the laconic pair squatting down to squeeze out eggs. One smashes and, staring at the gooey albumen dripping between her fingers, the chicken says "I don't know how I feel about this". Maybe it's the late hour and maybe it's a mildly soused audience, but you just kinda go with it.

At times Witt 'n Camp reminded me of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie's Flight of the Conchords. Like them, they display an almost infuriatingly natural grasp of melody and lyricism, combined with a refreshing absence of cynicism and a willingness to get silly without any ironic winking at the audience. As such they're extremely easy to like, which makes for an hour that goes down very smoothly.

That said, if there were a bit more connective tissue between the various segments the show could really lift off. It seems a bit ungrateful to complain about 'merely' receiving an entertaining show, but Witt 'n Camp come across as if they're searching for a thesis to bring together these disparate ideas and characters. Then again, perhaps the scrappy and rough around the edges style is what makes the audience instinctively like the pair so much.

Howitt and Campbell are working from a solid bedrock of talent - whatever they turn their hands to will be, at bare minimum, barrels of fun. 

Witt 'n Camp is at the Soho Theatre until 18 May. Tickets here.

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