full text of reviews for aeneas faversham

***** Edinburgh Evening News, Friday 25 August 2006
Martin Lennon

DON'T worry if you couldn't get tickets to see Aeneas Faversham. Chances are that it will be snapped up for a TV series when the Fringe finishes.

Owing a great deal to Monty Python for their style and to Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns in particular for the conceit - a sketch show set in Victorian times - The Penny Dreadfuls team consistently and constantly had the audience in hysterics.

Their timing was faultless and the absurdist, often displaced material, nodding occasionally to Milligan and the Pythons, was refreshingly original.

The quartet, dressed in morning coats with red cravats, ran through a wealth of characters including the terrifying Horatio T Station - the Station Master, a cowardly Boer war captain, and a Russian circus performer who proclaimed earnestly that "tea is coffee's bitch".

You'll be in debt to the Victorians for the rest of your life, if you actually get in to see it.

***** British Theatre Guide, August 2006
Rachel Lynn Brody

Aeneas Faversham is one of those magical Fringe treats that sneaks up on you from nowhere only to catapult it into your list of 'top ten Fringe experiences ever.'

I was having a beer and catching up on some work when a frizzy-haired blonde with heavy eye makeup came up to me and inquired if I was busy at six. Normally, I scowl at these kinds of intrusions - after all, I'm already booked into a half dozen shows a day and it's rare I have the time, let alone the inclination, to add more to the schedule. But something made me nod, and as she passed me a flyer shaped like a Victorian playing card and explained that Aneas Faversham was a cross between Monty Python and the League of Gentlemen, but all done in a Victorian setting, I have to admit - I was skeptical, but sold.

So I trundled along to the press office to arrange my ticket, and twiddled my thumbs for the hour or so till the show began. Upon entering, I decided to throw caution to the wind and took a seat in the front row.

Aspirational as the frizzy-haired girl's classification of the show had seemed, it soon became clear that the Penny Dreadfuls in every way lived up to her hype. It was like watching a live-action book of short stories by Edward Gorey and Lemony Snickett. Perfect.

The sketches, which range from secret society birthday parties to vampire hunter lectures to not-quite-so-barren wives putting up with their repressed husbands, never go on too long, and always hit the right comedic note. Locals who frequent thte Stand Comedy Club may recognize Jamie Anderson, as charming in a wasitcoat and cravat as when putting down hecklers at a Monday night Red Raw.

I would happily have sat through another hour of these sketches, and if there had been a DVD for sale as we left I would have snatched out my Switch card to buy it. As it was, I proudly wore my complimentary 'not a vampire' badge for a good hour after leaving the theatre, and explained where I'd got it to multiple staff members at the other venues I visited over the night.

The best performances leave you wanting more, and the end of this hour of mirth is truly a heartbreaking thing. In fact, my only complaint about Aneas Faversham is that it ends. On a scale of one to five stars, this show deserves at least seven. Sadly, I don't think I'm allowed to give that many, so I'll settle for five and telling every person I know about this hysterical and well-crafted Victorian sketch comedy.

A quick read-through of their press release informs me that the Penny Dreadfuls have been performing Aneas Faversham for quite some time now, and apparently already made an impression with the BBC's comedy unit and in London. One can only hope that means we'll be seeing a lot more of this understated, over-the-top troupe's peculiar brand of theatrical curiosities in the years to come.

***** Broadway Baby, August 2006

Penny Dreadfuls are a comedy troupe with a difference – all of the sketches are set in Victorian England. One might expect the joke to wear a bit thin in this hour long show, but their ingenuity and quirky take on perceived cliché’s of that era is constantly surprising and consequently consistently very funny.

Like all classic comedy combinations they’ve also got the physical blend right – four very different types. Humphrey Ker, for example, often seemed to be about ten feet tall under the low ceiling of this space. The other three players, Dave Reed, Thom Tuck and Jamie Anderson each bring something different to the party, and all four display an unbelievable array of accents (there’s actually a sketch equating regional accents with insanity) and tremendous acting versatility.

The sketches for the most part come fast and furious (the Victorian children’s entertainer who reduces the kids to tears is inspired), only a couple slightly outstaying their welcome. Even here they seemed to playing with the genre. The beautifully played scenario where a husband refuses to discuss having a baby with his wife because, he informs her, she is barren, looks like it’s going to end on a weak punch line several times as the lights begin to fade. But they keep coming up again and again until it is obvious it is he who isn’t interested in copulating by which time the lady in question got a huge, sympathetic “aaaahhh” from the audience.

In fact, finding an “out” from a sketch is often the hardest bit. Even the geniuses of Python often resorted to the “this sketch is too silly” way out. Spike Milligan’s sketches often ended with him shuffling off the stage or screen saying “what do we do now…”. Penny Dreadfuls’ sketches are very clever and funny, and almost always end on the biggest laugh of the scene. I’ve been wandering around saying “Tea is the bitch of coffee” in a Russian accent for days. Go and see the show, you’ll see why!

***** Three Weeks, August 2006

Rarely is a sketch show laugh-out-loud funny in every single scene, but the Penny Dreadfuls are the definite exception to this widely established rule - with each scene more stupid and more comical than the last. From treating patients who are suffering from “regional accents” to proclaiming that “tea is coffee’s bitch!”, these guys manage to find jokes in the strangest of subjects. I don’t think I could find a fault in anything that they did – and you even get a free badge! Okay, so they may not be trying to change the world, or make us think, particularly, but let’s be honest, who really wants that at tea-time anyway? This is just a great piece of lightweight fun.

***** Chortle, August 2006
John Fleming

This is a wonderful scripted and strongly acted selection of cod Victorian melodramatic snatches, if that's the word, introduced by the dandyish gentleman explorer Aeneas Faversham

I'm sadly old enough to have been at the Fringe in 1981 and seen that year's Cambridge Footlights revue which included Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Tony Slattery. I remember Fry and Thompson being good but raw; the others were fairly innocuous. Yet the talented team behind Aeneas Faversham team, The Penny Dreadfuls, are far more developed as both writers and performers.

I spy a straight-to-BBC Two TV series and two years of fame – and then who knows what? The four-man cast of Jamie Anderson, Humphrey Ker, Dave Reed and Thom Tuck come fully-fledged with charisma, talent, an impressive range of accents and sharp characterisations. Production-wise, they have stark stage lighting and a strong soundtrack to add to the atmospheric ambience. They even have the one who is as tall as John Cleese and the one who darts around like Michael Palin.

They haven't missed a trick in this enchanting portrait of bad children's entertainers, vampire hunting, 'barren' wives and various evocative slices of Victoriana. This is only one of four shows that The Penny Dreadfuls, who come from an improv background, have developed. They are frighteningly professional, and streets ahead of any competitors.

**** The Scotsman, Tuesday 22nd August 2006
Roger Cox

THEY were a funny lot, the Victorians - a fact not lost on the writers of this sketch show, who milk the foibles of their pompous, starchy forbears for all they're worth. Jamie Anderson, Humphrey Ker, David Reed and Thom Tuck - all former members of the Edinburgh University improv comedy troupe the Improverts - have crafted an absolute winner of a show here, and what's more they are all strong enough performers to make their material sparkle.

The opening skit - in which a man trying to get a train to Bath to see his aunt is constantly frustrated by a sinister station master - is far from the best thing here, but be patient: things get much, much better.

The comedic bar is raised considerably by a scene in which a former soldier, Captain Dawlish, is visited by a series of people from his past, all of them out to exact revenge for crimes and betrayals committed in the field. The stand-out vignette, however, is a terrifying children's birthday party presided over by a full-on fire-and-brimstone vicar who reduces the birthday boy and his brother to little piles of blubbering goo with his bellowed threats of hell and eternal damnation.

Elsewhere there are plenty of beautifully observed details to enjoy, including a duel soundtracked by one of the cast members banging two forks together and a lip-bitingly good take on Captain Oates's "I am just going outside and may be some time" sacrifice during Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. (OK, so Queen Victoria was long dead by then, but everyone still spoke like Victorians.)

The acting is excellent throughout - controlled and confident - but what is really striking about this quartet is their effortlessly excellent diction. Given the state of radio comedy these days - and I'm thinking of Radio 4 in particular here - somebody somewhere should get these guys on the airwaves, pronto.

**** The Skinny, Tuesday 15th August 2006
Michael Duffy

The absurd logic of the Victorian psyche is superbly sourced in this bright sketch show by the players of The Penny Dreadfuls. Gravediggers and crooked surgeons, Yorkshire vampire hunters, puritanical clowns and camp, duelling city gents are all on stage for this Gothic dance around Dickensian Britain. The kinship between the four players is delightful and reminiscent of the troupe in the Mahwaff Theatre Company’s Angry Young Man from last year’s Fringe. Humphrey Ker, a prototype John Cleese, begins proceedings by channelling his talent into Horatio T Station, a coach master for whom Woking is an essential destination. Indeed the humour in part stems from such a lofty man performing next to his counterparts under the shallow roof of the Belly Dancer theatre.

The zaniness of The Goon Show and Python seeps through the sketches, from the "brilliant" Sherlock sleuth to the ex-colonial army captain who tells his vengeful soldiers: “I gave you the order to retreat, or at least I led by example.”

The show is not entirely consistent. Some sketches peter out rather than crescendo, though this is more due to a deviation in comic timing as opposed to a paucity of material. For while this production sometimes falters from the pedestal of nonsensical, gleeful amusement, seldom does it not land on the pyre of clever entertainment.

**** One4Review.com, August 2006

Sketch comedy shows are found by the hundreds during the Edinburgh Fringe and everyone is looking for an angle or slightly different hook.

The Penny Dreadfuls seem to have done this successfully. Jamie Anderson, Humphrey Ker, Dave Reed and Thom Tuck all individually have an average of five or more years experience in stand-up, together they are The Penny Dreadfuls. They present 'Aeneas Faversham' which is billed as "A Victorian Sketch Comedy Show". The show has been shown in both Edinburgh and Glasgow since last year and has recently previewed in London.

These dapper, waist-coated dandy's perform a variety of glimpses into Victoriana. Characters so wide ranging it would be difficult to catagorise them. Although the show could not be described as manic the gags come fairly steadily and are passed in such a way the energy is maintained throughout. Well written and beautifully performed.

For something slightly different this show comes highly recommended.

The Stage, Wednesday 9th August 2006
William McEvoy

Vampire hunters from Whitby, the gothic terrors of Bath and gender bending grave robbers are just some of the sketches in this energetic take on Victorian melodrama and Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

The Penny Dreadfuls certainly look the part with their red cravats and black morning suits and their sketches give an absurd and surreal twist to the gloomy netherworld of the Victorian imagination. Stark lighting casts long shadows and the maniacal laughter of moustache-twiddling villains is never far away.

The performers create a gallery of stock character types ranging from duelling young bucks to gay aristocrats. Bathos is one of their best tactics, pricking Victorian bombast with a cleverly timed 21st century rejoinder. Some witty parodies of physical theatre add an extra layer to their consistently inventive and off the wall-skits.

The show reveals how much Conan Doyle, Jack the Ripper, Dr Crippen et al have wormed their way into our subconscious but also how much has changed since then. The Penny Dreadfuls clearly love all the dour reverends, serial poisoners and bumbling policemen of the Victorian psyche and this highly amusing show is right at home in the sublime gloom of Edinburgh’s Underbelly.