It really does sadden me that I don’t go to the theatre that often these days. Once upon a time, you’d see me eagerly bouncing to and from matinees like it was going out of fashion. However, as I get older/busier, I often find that life gets in the way, and don’t always have the cash for the most sought-after productions in town (student discounts, how I miss you). So when I was invited to Bristol SU’s brand-new live comedy show, Kick the PJ, I couldn’t have been more delighted to get back into my theatre A game.
The production would take place at Winston Theatre, a traditional proscenium arch theatre based within Bristol University’s Richmond building. The venue ticks all the aesthetic boxes; a contemporary space, complete with a union bar, pottery studio, and photography dark rooms. I often find that university buildings can be somewhat devoid of atmosphere, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the University had gone to town on the décor- garlands of flags and fairy lights at every turn, with a few displays of art thrown in for good measure.
And so to the show. The star of the production was youtuber PJ Liguori, a kid wonder vlogger who has built a solid foundation of fans and followers across the globe (1.4 million in fact). Specialising in surrealist, offbeat comedy, PJ embarks upon a madcap space adventure after crash landing on a far-distant planet. Encountering all manner of characters and dilemmas in an effort to survive in this unknown world, PJ and friends offer a distinct, classic British-style of humour that taps into the modern millennial market.
Surrealistic comedy can generally go only one of two ways; either it’s wonderfully bonkers, or proves an unmitigated disaster. The curious thing about Kick the PJ was that it didn’t fall into either of these categories- it was funny, it was most certainly witty, but something didn’t feel quite right. Like I’d seen the show before.
I had a couple of niggling instances of this during the tentative beginnings of the play. As we entered a brief chat with PJ whilst he was introducing a few characters from the show, everything felt very reminiscent of series one of the Mighty Boosh (fellow fans will remember Howard and Vince’s ‘Welcome to the Show’ skits before the curtains opened for each episode). At first I thought it was just mere coincidence, but it soon became apparent that this Boosh-esque humour was the foundation of the show. All subtleties had been abandoned half an hour in- Boosh jokes came thick and fast now, as did the characters. PJ’s fondness for loud, outlandish clothing irresistibly reminded me of Vince Noir, while a funky space man called Bog took the form of an infuriating clone of Old Gregg, substituting the classic ‘do you like Baileys?’ line to the almost identical ‘Do you like gravy?’. As the jokes became more and more blatant, my frustration grew.
I therefore found Kick the PJ rather underwhelming, due to its complete lack of originality. PJ and friends had not merely used the Mighty Boosh as an ‘inspiration’ for their live shows- they had quite obviously rehashed half of the jokes. When the cast interacted with the audience, it was apparent that everyone involved in the production was fantastically witty, and possessed the ability to improvise on the spot. This gave the show an organic feel, which the production desperately needed. These moments between audience and cast felt far more genuine than the show itself, which left me feeling somewhat disappointed when leaving the theatre.
The most concise way of summing up this production? It’s the Mighty Boosh for a new generation. It’s the same jokes, adapted to a millenial teen/student market with a space-age feel. That’s not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but when you’ve seen the likes of Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding perform these skits with more depth and imagination, PJ and co merely pale in comparison.
Bristol SU Live host a range of live music, theatre and comedy in Bristol. View their full programme of events at www.bristolsu.org.uk/bristolsulive