Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Tim Key – The Slutcracker, Soho Theatre

Review: Tim Key – The Slutcracker, Soho Theatre

Published on Culture Wars, 24.02.2010

Best described as a miscellany, every moment of Tim Key’s Edinburgh Comedy Award winning hour – for show would give the wrong impression – requires savouring. Not because it’s a machine-gun clacker to leave you gasping for air, but rather because its profundities and poignancies are so infinitesimally small that to blink is to risk missing one.

Key trades in slivers of everyday life as slotted between glass slides and viewed through a wonky microscope. In an assortment of petite poems and mumbled musings, he offers a pointillist portrait of modern, urban existence. ‘Tanya googled herself / Still nothing,’ reads one. Others cover thrill-seeking colleagues skinning eels in their lunch-break, the moments in which relationships crack, and “the thorny issue of dew.”

Sprinkled around this primary structure, cleverly fracturing the poetry recital feel for something more roundabout cabaret, are a series of sundry set-pieces. Soft-focus videos bring his words to life, lists of animals into which Key may or may not fit and a final mini-adventure that sucks one straight back to childhood.

Stylistically, Key’s main comedy tactic is a tightrope of delicacy and precise clumsiness. Miniscule moments of sensibility are interrupted by the blunt or the surreal. Frequently, Key wraps up his micro-narratives, romantic as they can be, with a sudden burst of realism. In one, several suburban names – Anna, Geoff and Tim, I think – are tearing at a fleshy corpse. One guzzles down the testicles, only for Key to add, in a gorgeously unexpected footnote, that the majority are lions and gazelles. Only Anna (who chomped on the chaps) is revealed to be human. “Probably on her gap-year,” he suggests.

The result is that Key can play with punch-lines, subverting his set-up quite classically, without us spotting their approach. His fumbling delivery, often in the form of asides, explanatory digressions and footnotes, allows him to catch us off-guard as a postmodern gag-man. It’s not the carefully orchestrated chaos that many would have us believe.

If anything, in fact, Key has smartened up since I last saw him. In The Slut in the Hut (2008), a shabbily-suited Key scuffed his way around an over-cluttered portacabin venue. His set, supposedly structured around four different beverages, seemed to be determined by whatever came to hand. Permanently searching himself and his venue for material, at one point Key withdrew a waterbiscuit from a pocket to find it inscribed. Here, the waterbiscuit returns. Only this time, in a mini-disc case, deliberately protected for use.

The result is to give Key a philosophic authority. Rather than a failed bum, out of touch and dealing in the preposterous, he has become an ethereal laureate, still strange but also strangely wise. With that wisdom, he achieves something quite theatrical; namely, to change the way you see the world. And that is something only the best of comedy can do.

Photograph: Tim Key/Invisible Dot

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