Review: Obsolete Tomfoolery at the Etcetera Theatre, London

Monday 20th August 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, Camden.


Sycorax Theatre’s Obsolete Tomfoolery is a quirky, high-energy affair with some well considered social commentary underlining a decidedly lively brand of comedy. The show looks at the life of Helen Duncan, a woman demonised in the 1940s and imprisoned under the Witchcraft Act – the last ‘witch’ to be incarcerated – and what appears to be a dark piece of theatre in the premise and opening scenes soon gives way to an entertaining mix of the ominous and the absurd…

There are four key entertaining elements to Obsolete Tomfoolery: a little social satire, a little genuine beauty, lots of absurd comedy and plenty of tomfoolery. The comedy takes the lead here with a free-flowing, unrestrained energy where anything goes – the illusion of performance is broken as cast members break from their roles and the fourth wall is freely broken as a cast member interacts with unsuspecting audience members momentarily thrust into the path of a (very well-observed – kudos to the writing) false medium. Yet amidst the farce, there’s an exchange featuring pointed comments from a cluster of priggish men discussing how to deal with these darn women being such a problem – particularly the fat, old, ugly ones. It’s an absurd, exaggerated scene which bee-lines for the laughs with props and bellowing and the debate is delivered tongue-in-cheek, but obviously there’s resonance to be detected in this day and age – ‘many a truth told in jest’ as they say. In a unique blend of the raucous, loud, in-your-face and the beautiful, the show also features fleeting glimpses of music hall tunes – We’ll Meet Again offering up some lovely, simple harmonies. 3AAC314E-8844-4084-8CD8-A51913677332The cast as a whole are a top bunch who multi-role through swift transitions featuring some nice physicality which isn’t always the sharpest, but works well. There’s an element of ‘The Sisterhood of the Travelling Skirt’ as one black number makes the rounds, giving each female member of the cast a stab at the role of Helen over the years which is a notably simple but impressive approach. Katie Rice conjures the creeps as a young Helen with ‘special friends’, the incongruous male in a dress (instant laugh of course) Shaun Connor Bentley gives a splendid rendition of a near-exploding school master and Eleanor Pead’s oafish entitled man definitely takes the biscuit. Jessica Bailes is the comically awkward Dormouse at this Mad-Hatter-esque courtroom party and offers up an endearingly inept defence. Eleanor George impresses with a hilarious highly strung army general while Claire Duffell shines as the quintessential 1940s British newsreader. And finally, Eleanor Hill steals the show as the manic, unstoppable false medium along with a more commanding turn as prosecutor.

This is a show which champions the silly and the anything-goes brand of comedy but somehow manages to shoehorn in some depth as closing time nears – a thoroughly entertaining hour.

Obsolete Tomfoolery plays at The Etcetera Theatre, Camden fro two more shows on August 21st 2018 – 12.30 and 4.30 – you can find tickets here.

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