I was first attracted to A Joke, as most people probably were, by the wealth of acting experience on hand. For me, it was because it had two of my favourite actors starring in it, Doctor Who’s Sylvester McCoy and Star Trek: Voyager’s Robert Picardo, and they are both joined by veteran British TV and film actor John Bett.
The three men find themselves in an empty void, trying to make sense of their situation. After attempting to figure things out, McCoy’s character believes they could be the making of a joke, and that he is the Irishman, Bett is the Englishman and Picardo is the Scotsman, despite the fact that McCoy is Scottish and Picardo is American. For the most part, the Irishman and Scotsman play the fool to the Englishman.
The performances are really the highlight for this play. Each man excelled in their performance of their character. Bett’s performance of the Englishman is nothing new, but is wonderfully arrogant and pompous. McCoy is in his element as the Irishman, really laying in the stereotypical nature of an Irishman in a joke, all the while playing the clown, skipping around the stage with various verbal tics and whistles. Picardo plays the brainless American clod, happy with things just the way they are and doesn’t think too far ahead.
Over the course of the play, the three try and make sense of who they are, where they are and what purpose their existence has. The play explores the themes of how jokes are formed, but it all has a sense of exploring our place in the universe and the existence of god. It’s well written, but a little aimless and bland. The cast work wonders with it though, but it feels as though i wants to be in the vein of Waiting for Godot but doesn’t quite manage to hit the same notes.
There’s not much to note on the technical side of things. It’s all rather simplistic but i think that’s how they envisioned it. The set is just three chairs and a table with large semi-transparent curtains at the rear of the stage. The lighting is made of up a mere general wash, which remains throughout, and there’s little in terms of sound effects aside from each man’s entrance. There’s also a small musical number at the end of the play.
It’s hard to put a finger on why this play didn’t resonate with me. The performances were great, but the play itself is just a bit forgettable. It’s a shame, as the performance I went to was a little on the light side in terms of attendance and A Joke does deserve better than being less than half full. A Joke doesn’t really go anywhere, at the end our three men haven’t really grown or changed, but then again this could be a tale about our place in the universe, always wondering what our purpose is but never finding out.
A Joke runs everyday until August 26th (except the 21st) at Assembly Rooms – Ballroom.
An interesting play about the formation of a joke, but it might not be as deep as it wants to be.