I seriously had a hard time deciding whether or not I would give my first score of 5/5 laughs to Pump Trolley’s Revue show last night, the second of two revue shows they did this week before the group heads off to Chicago to take part in the Chicago Sketchfest in January. The show was described by Pump Trolley as a “stellar line-up of sketches that [they will] be performing for the crowds in Chicago!” And when they said stellar, they meant stellar.
I completely agree. I was somewhat concerned about this show – what if my previous Pump Trolley fervour turned out to be a mistake? It would be like my mom promising me a real, live puppy and giving me a stuffed animal instead. I couldn’t face that.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to.
Pump Trolley’s many talents are reflected in the execution of their shows – everything seems to occur spontaneously with little to no effort on the part of the group. The China Cloud is always beautifully done up, rich in atmosphere and low on pretension, but the setup never feels contrived. Once the show starts, the transitions between scenes are so smooth you barely realize they’re happening.One second, you’ll be looking at a bunch of guys trapped in hell, and the next, a couple of human sunflowers. That can’t be easy to pull off, given how elaborate some of their costumes are.
There’s a level of professionalism there that one might think would translate into stuffy, boring sketches. But it never does. They have a Python-esque gift for elevating a simple premise, combined with a touch of observational humour and a post-Modern love of pop-culture references. There’s something for everybody, whether you love dick jokes, 90s movies or men in green pantyhose.
Every sketch the group performed was sheer genius. From the life cycle of a pair of sunflowers, to the efforts of a Cradle of Filth fan trying to clear out a dance club, the writing was spot on and each of the members portrayed their characters with excellent comic timing. It was very easy to see that Pump Trolley loves their craft.
So, why then would I only give this show a 4.5? Well, the sketch portion was a blast, the improv portion at the end of the show was very funny, but the stand-up portion was where the show lost a little momentum.
Special guest Dave Shumka took the stage shortly after the intermission and, while he certainly gave the crowd his fair share of laughs, he didn’t blow me away. His set had a low-budget charm about it, almost as if he was deconstructing his comedy as he was telling it. Again, Shumka was pretty funny, but all the energy Pump Trolley had built up before him slowly drained away with his calmer style of humour.
I thought Shumka’s quirky nerdiness was, in theory, an excellent complement to what Pump Trolley was putting out there. But it didn’t completely work. Shumka shares Pump Trolley’s flair for observational absurdity – he has a bit about drinking a doughnut that is absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately, he wasn’t an enthusiastic enough presence to compete with the sketch before him, which featured Nick Harvey-Cheetham in a curly black wig and a dress. But, in his low-key way, he had some fun with his time, using the mic stand as a coatrack, blowing into the microphone and repeatedly engaging his lone heckler in conversation. The audience – particularly the women – seemed to enjoy his set. But it would have flowed better with the rest of the show had it come immediately after intermission.
For the sketch and improv alone, Pump Trolley definitely deserves a full 5/5. But the show as a whole had a tiny weak point that just held it back from a perfect score.
Also, I want to give special recognition to Warren Bates for his inspired metalhead character, and to Tom Hill and Tegan Verheul for their in-sync strip dance.
The improv was, as always, exceptional. My only complaint was that it ended too soon. I would have liked a few more minutes so that the group members all had a little more time to shine.
And as for special recognitions – Tegan Verheul is always excellent, but she really blew me away at this show. Her Strip Coach character and depressing storytime sketch were both side-splittingly hilarious. Warren Bates actually took my breath away a little with intensity and perfection of his Cradle of Filth fan character (He reminded me forcibly of Bruce McCulloch, in fact.) And Nick Harvey-Cheetham completely owned the improv set.
But Pump Trolley are masters of balance, so everyone got their moment in the spotlight. And at the end of the day, everybody was brilliant, even if they weren’t always the flashiest character on the stage. I’m already excited to see who I’ll be extra-impressed by next time.
Speaking of next time, Pump Trolley mentioned at this show that they’ll be holding a fundraiser for their trip to the Chicago SketchFest on Jan. 2. Check their website or join their Facebook group for more info.