The Pleasance Theatre, Caledonian Road, London, 13/10/2019.
The only time I’ve previously seen The Maydays was in “Oh Boy: The Quantum Leap Show” where they managed to pull off a very funny homage to the Scott Bakula show, and it was so good I always intended to see them again when I could. Years passed and life got in the way as it has an annoying habit of doing, but when I saw that they were doing a horror themed show that was also a musical I jumped at the chance to see it.
There are 12 members of the group in total though most shows only see 5 – 7 of them performing at any one time, and that was the case with Happily Never After where Jen Rowe, Katy Schutte, Rebecca MacMillan, Jules Munns and Rhiannon Vivian took to the stage, along with two very talented musicians. At the beginning they introduced themselves and mentioned how they’re influenced by The Brothers Grimm, Edgar Allen Poe and Tim Burton, though thankfully it’s the 90’s version of Burton rather than the current one.
After asking the audience for a job title which someone’s grandparents actually did, with Stone Mason chosen, they launched in to an unrelated song which sets up the tone and atmosphere for tonight’s performance, it’s a cute little number with a dark twist as it becomes about someone who was buried alive, and highlights not only the individual members talent for improvising songs but also the impressive way they work together.
After this we’re introduced to Petra and Angela (Katy Schutte and Rhiannon Vivian), two young girls whose parents have sadly died and who now have to live with their Uncle Finer (Jules Munns). He’s an uptight type who isn’t happy that the girls have moved in, and neither are they given that he lives six feet underground, has a window that looks out on to a wall of skulls and there’s only mouldy biscuits to eat and dust to drink. Oh, and instead of blankets or duvets they sleep underneath rats, which I’ve heard rumoured is less than ideal. The imagination on display is constantly inventive but also very funny, and that applies to the song that followed where all three lament that this doesn’t feel like home.
The next morning Uncle Finer apologises for his abrasive welcome and explains how he’s still coming to terms with the death of his wife, whose skeleton he sleeps with and which he then offers (in the form of Jen Rowe, who makes being a dead body extremely funny) to the girls, the dialogue is extremely strong in this bit and a running gag about it being 4am in the morning is a exquisitely funny one. Then we’re introduced to two social workers (Rebecca MacMillan, Jen Rowe), who eat their lunch in a graveyard and enjoy the bird song of a nearby Robin, at least until an evil cat spoils their joy in a standout bit of physical comedy.
What follows over the rest of the hour is a twisted, dark tale which pleasingly didn’t go in the direction initially hinted at, and all of the songs they improvised generated a lot of laughter from the audience, and as well as being funny some managed to be surprisingly touching too which is quite the feat. There’s one minor misstep when the group pretend to be grave diggers which doesn’t tie in with the rest of the production and isn’t that great, but it’s still fun enough and by no means bad in anyway.
Long-form improvisation like this is always difficult to make consistently funny and the fact that it’s a musical as well means The Maydays deserve a huge amount of kudos for pulling it off. It’s not only often hilarious but strangely creepy and weird too, and the dark ending and final line is a gorgeous one which had me grinning from ear to eat, but may have also sent a shiver down the spine of less psychologically fucked up audience members. For me The Maydays are the best improv group in the country right now, and an absolute must see if you love unpredictable but always extremely funny comedy.
The Maydays Official Site.