By Isabella Olsson
Jurassic Arc, performed by comedy troupe Johnny Cobra and written and directed by troupe member Tommy James Green, is billed as “a hilarious mix of story, sketch and burlesque, tied together as a tale of exploration set on an island full of buried comedy treasures.” At its best, it is exactly that, with quick, absurd sketches and clever transitions that give an audience exactly what they expect from sketch comedy – a taste of the ridiculous, snappy punchlines and unique sketch ideas. The six performers are all strong and share a great energy, and we root for them from the get go, excited for them to take us on a wild and ludicrous comedic journey. However, despite their best efforts and these moments of hilarity, the show is to a large extent underwhelming. While the nuggets of comedy gold are delicious and thoroughly enjoyable, the majority of the show, particularly the first half, is laden with filler, predictable gags, and recycled jokes that struggle to land.
It is slightly disappointing that this new comedy troupe, largely composed of young people, have delivered a show that rather than being too weird or inaccessible, falls short instead by being just a little too predictable. There is clearly a desire to pay homage to some sketch comedy greats – over the course of the show they reference Monty Python, Mitchell & Webb, and Key & Peele, to name a few – but the line between homage and imitation is overstepped, and we end up seeing rehashed versions of famous sketches straight from the archive. While I appreciate the nod to comedy history, and perhaps the attempt at making the audience more comfortable with this well-trodden ground, the simple fact is that when we already know the punchline, the thrill of a sketch disappears. We’ve seen Monty Python’s “Stake Your Claim” game show sketch; we’ve heard Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon compete over their Michael Caine impressions on “The Trip”; we know full well that I Don’t Know is on Third Base. These concepts were fresh and new when we first watched them on our parents’ VCRs, but recycled in 2019 they feel stale and unoriginal.
The fact that the comedic inspiration for this show is nearly entirely derived from old school, all-male comedy troupes also does not go unnoticed. While female members Jessica Murphy and Mikaela Atallah are both powerhouses and command the space whenever they are onstage, the show has a distinctly boyish feel to it and tends to showcase its predominantly male cast ahead of its women. More than once, Murphy is referred to as the “token female”, a joke that feels vaguely self-aware until you realise that in many ways, that is exactly what she has been relegated to – the mother, the girlfriend, the voice of reason. Atallah, on the other hand, has a recurring role as a burlesque-inspired Goddess figure, who while a strong and initially refreshing character, is soon confined to repeating the same shtick over and over again, a shame considering she is one of the most vibrant personalities onstage.
There is also a fundamental weakness to their show concept, which is based around an Indiana Jones-style quest to discover a comedy grail of sorts: “an artefact of legendary comic power”. While I’m not inherently against this sort of meta comedy framework for sketch shows, they do present a bit of a dilemma for the performers who employ them, in that in setting such a lofty goal they inevitably set themselves up for disappointment: unless they really do achieve the height of comedy by the end of it (a big ask), the audience are left underwhelmed. The comedy grail turns out (spoiler alert) to be a goofy dance routine that doesn’t quite live up to expectations, and the show ends with a fizzle rather than a bang.
There is a lot to love in Jurassic Arc – a hilarious Woody Allen parody pokes fun at the self-indulgent soft boy archetype, while a short, sharp and hugely effective infomercial spoof advertises to men who harass women the miracle solution: “go fuck yourself”. When jokes land, they are a delight, and the audience laps it up. The performers too are universally strong and share a great onstage chemistry; it just all feels a little underutilised and tired. The show is promising, and I’m excited to see what Johnny Cobra have in store in the future –Jurassic Arc is just not quite the comedy grail I’d hoped for.
Johnny Cobra's Jurassic Arc is playing at Giant Dwarf from the 13th - 15th of November.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.