Monday, 10 June 2013

Gaining some - and losing some: Seven Studies In Salesmanship

In a Festival as big as the Buxton Fringe there will always be some programme changes. Sadly it means we lose shows we really didn't want to - and a list of any cancellations or other changes are posted on the Programme pages of the website. One loss we were sorry to hear about was the cancellation - after injury - of Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks. The very good news, however, is that the Foundry Group is bringing a different show to Buxton instead. Seven Studies In Salesmanship ran at Brighton Fringe - to ecstatic reviews. Here's what Fringe Guru said. [You can see Seven Studies at The Railway on July 10th and 11th - just two opportunities for what will be one of the most talked-about shows this Fringe. Tickets can be bought at the Opera House box office].

There’s not much left at the Fringe which can draw a gasp of shock from this jaded, world-weary reviewer. But in Joseph Nixon and Brian Mitchell’s hilariously intelligent Seven Studies In Salesmanship, one precious moment triggered not just a gasp – but a full-on, mouth-wide-open, did-that-really-just-happen choke. Even more remarkably, it’s a PowerPoint slide which stopped my laughter in mid-flow. So go to this show (you really must go to this show)… and see if you can guess which one.
Seven Studies is essentially a sketch show: a series of vignettes linked, occasionally tenuously, by the salesman’s theme.  So there’s the “hard sell”, which contained that pole-axing PowerPoint, and the “celebrity endorsement”, which married finely-crafted throwaway barbs with a genuine critique of our vacuous media.  The “relationship close” takes a much-discussed real-world issue to a rib-tickling extreme, while “damage limitation” dials down the gag count, yielding a funny but touching two-hander that’s so very at home in Brighton.
Don’t expect laugh-a-minute stuff, though; this is rather better than that.  Each of the sketches is constructed as a proper piece of bonsai theatre, starting intriguingly, building slowly, and closing with an often-outrageous revelation.  There are some serious themes too, and for much of the two hours, I was praying for just one of the stories to end on something meatier than a punchline.  I’m pleased to say that Mitchell and Nixon granted my wish… though my goodness, they made me wait for it.
With all four of the cast delivering impressive performances, it feels wrong to single out anyone in particular.  But it would be a travesty to ignore David Mounfield’s appearance in Coppelia, the piece which illustrated the art of the “soft sell”.  As the eager and nervous innocent caught in a longed-for yet terrifying scenario, his demeanour was a joy, his expression the perfect match for what I was thinking.  Still, that’s just one example: I could equally talk about the cheery-but-vulnerable charity worker, the parodically well-rehearsed estate agent, the astronaut struggling to convey the concept of urgency to an over-solicitous sales rep.

As part of the cheap-and-cheerful £5 Fringe, this performance is packed into a room behind a pub – with co-writer Brian Mitchell also serving as tech guy, chief door-opener, and sometime stage-hand.  I actually quite liked the homely nature of it all, and it’s is a good match of a high-energy show to what can be a rather noisy space.  But I do wonder whether the direction paid enough heed to the lack of raked seating or raised stage.  From my position halfway back, it turned into a radio play whenever the actors sat down… and they sat down more than they absolutely had to.

There were occasional lulls in the pace – not an unusual criticism, on a show’s first night – but there’s already a nice attention to detail, right down to the American salesman who’s tried to impress his Scottish client by wearing a tartan tie.  So there’s self-evident five-star potential in Seven Studies In Salesmanship, once they’ve had a few performances to properly tune it, and either moved up to a better venue or adjusted to its current one.  But don’t wait till then; it’s a delight as it stands.  See it now.