Edinburgh Festival 2011: Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane

Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane ****

Udderbelly’s Pasture, Cowbarn. 6pm

Great dialogue is like stardust. It’s rare and precious; it can do amazing things, even when it’s embedded in a simple or unimpressive plot.

For instance: even today, I can sit through episodes of Friends, despite hating their ubiquity. Blame dialogue, folks. For all their flaws, the people writing Friends knew how to make a conversation go ‘zing’.

Sammy J and Randy are ahead of the game, because they’ve got brilliant, natural, bantering, bitching, buzzy and downright weird dialogue all throughout their show… And they haven’t neglected the other aspects of the production to get there.

The title characters are respectively a ‘shit-kicking tax lawyer’ and an unemployed, divorcee, alcoholic, purple puppet. Yes, puppet. In addition to being a show-piece for fabulous dialogue, this is also a puppet show.

We follow them on their journey through a turbulent time in their friendship – in order to make something of himself in the legal game, Sammy J must prosecute his muppet-like friend for tax fraud – but mostly, we just sit back and enjoy the authentic, funny interactions of two friends and flatmates. I shared a flat happily for years with a good friend; part of my affection for this show is based on the skilful way it captures the joyous and idiosyncratic dynamic that can exist between two guys who spend rather too much time living in each other’s pockets. Well, that and the songs.

Yes, songs. On top of the repartee and puppetry, this show is also a musical. A proper musical, rather than a comedy with songs, because those songs are woven deftly into the experience – rather than dumped in so that an egotistical comedian can show off his additional talents by playing guitar for a spell.

There are great comic ideas throughout and – like the show itself – they become funnier as the performers’ groove becomes more familiar. I doubt I will encounter many more amusing concepts than Barack Obama’s ‘talking book’ tape of his own recipes at this festival: the greatest orator of our age sagely coaches Randy’s culinary efforts throughout the course of the hour.

Ricketts Lane achieves all of these things without ever taking itself too seriously. The primary impression these performers give is of loving their work and loving their working relationship. It comes across in the superb way they paint a friendship between such different characters; it’s evident in the good-humoured way they ad-lib themselves out of technical difficulties; it literally sings from the musical sections.

This production does several things very well, when any one of those things alone could have been the basis of a decent show. The dialogue, music and the puppet show aspect are all a cut above – and this excellent hour of entertainment should certainly make the cut for your Fringe viewing schedule.

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