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Tucked away in an adjoining room of Dunedin's Inch Bar, a trio of comedians run the gauntlet most dreaded by those in their line of work: the intimate gig. Playing host to around 25 of Dunedin's most dedicated comedy appreciators (this is 9:45pm on a Sunday, remember), Inch Bar's little-but-lively performance space is packed to the rafters for the debut of A Quality Piece of ARS.
First cab of the rank is Reuben Crimp, tackling the graveyard shift of the evening. It's no mean feat warming up a crowd from scratch, especially with a relatively short set, but Crimp handles the daunting task in style. Making the most of the expectant – if daunting – audience, Crimp covers a multitude of topics and emotions in his all-too-brisk 5-10 minutes of stage time, taking us from the self-deprication of dealing with teenage bullies, on the way to the show, all the way through to genuine sadness at the loss of a loved one, before wrenching us back out of the gloom in an instant by explaining the ‘real’ reason their life support had to be switched off. It is with split-second timing, confidence, and brilliantly off-colour gags that Crimp sets us up for a good time.
Annie Hayes is the next to take centre stage, offering a different flavour from that of her predecessor. Hayes goes beyond the realm of self-deprecating jokes into that of self-deprecating speech and body language – something that serves her sense of humour very well. Just when you think a lacklustre punchline has been served, Hayes reveals the true punchline with the underwhelmed brilliance of a Karl Pilkington rant.
Despite her material being strong, however, she is somewhat inhibited by her reliance on a cheat sheet of cues. This has a tendency to affect her delivery, which results in an unfortunate downward spiral of self-confidence and a few quality gags being lost by the wayside. A need for polishing notwithstanding, Hayes achieves some of the show's biggest laughs.
The night's final performer, Simon Kingsley-Holmes, takes to the stage and it's not long before he wins my pick for favourite comedian. Having a few years' experience under his belt, both in the dreaded Land of Aucks and on home soil right here at Inch Bar, Kingsley-Holmes' comedy chops are well and truly on display (and I'm not just talking about his sideburns). With the most professional delivery of the evening, alongside the wit and blink-and-you'll-miss-it comedy stylings reserved for those breastfed on Fry and Laurie and Blackadder, I'm left laughing so hard my throat hurts (as, I imagine, do the ears of those sitting in front of me).
Inexplicably, though, a lot of what I would deem to be his best gags seem to go by with only a chuckle from my fellow audience members. Maybe by this time on a Sunday, focus has waned a little, and some of the more philosophical gems are being lost in the mire. Doubtless this won't be the case for future (slightly earlier) iterations of their show.
All together, A Quality Piece of ARS is a thoroughly enjoyable way to wrap up one's evening, with something on offer for all senses of humour. Viewer coffee consumption is advised.
A Quality Piece of ARS* (Annie, Reuben and Simon)
Reuben Crimp, Simon Kingsley-Holmes, and Annie Hayes
At Inch Bar, 8 Bank St, Northeast Valley, Dunedin
Until 12 Mar 2018 (1 hour)
- by Dylan Shield originally for Theatreview