Review by Tessa Stickland
Little Sketch Book of Horrors is a comfortably weird solo sketch comedy show devised and performed by David Massingham.
The Butterfly Club is the perfect location for this spooky, off-kilter performance. Massingham’s comedy is much like the decor at The Butterfly Club: crooked little shelves stuffed full of odd knick-knacks and curiosities – it’s fun to look at, but not every item on the shelf is for me.
Massingham’s show has nothing to do with the film of a similar title (some sort of Tiny Store of Terrors…), so if you’re not familiar with it, don’t let that dissuade you from seeing the show. The title does, however, capture the general themes and tone: spooky and silly.
The show is loosely structured around Massingham trying to find his Little Sketch Book of Horrors to read the audience a scary story from. A pretty standard type of framing device for a sketch show. It didn’t excite me, but it wasn’t done badly.
Between pre-recorded narration of this search for the book through the library, we flit about sketches playing on different horror tropes. While I don’t actually like horror films, I am fascinated by the techniques of the genre, so there was still plenty for me to engage with. I think even someone with only a passing knowledge of horror would enjoy this show – but if horror is an area of interest for you, you’ll probably get more out of it.
Massingham thrives playing high-status characters. He has the charisma and confidence to pull it off. His main narrator character is a creepily welcoming, gothic mansion owner type – think horror TV hosts of the 70s and 80s with a bit of Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Riff Raff thrown in for measure.
These literary, pompous characters seem to be where Massingham has the most fun, which makes them the most fun parts to watch.
There are a few sections of audience interaction (spoooky!, as he puts it himself). When playing a high-status character during audience interactions, it’s fun to see him bounce off of their energy. I wish there were more of these moments or that they went for longer.
I also wonder if Massingham’s show might be better suited as an ensemble piece rather than a solo show. Or maybe not going that far, but including an offsider to banter with a bit – having a foil to highlight his strengths.
That being said, Massingham has a lot of sound cues in this show which he uses a bit like a foil. Most of the recordings are voiced by him, but a few are by other actors. Sometimes the audio is used to include a second character in the scene, sometimes it’s for a sound effect or audio punchline to a gag, or to fill the space while preparing the next sketch.
The audio technician and Massingham have excellent timing together, especially in the last section of the show. The Little Sketch Book is eventually found and the narrator reads the scary story to us. It gives vibes of Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids and The Simpsons’ parody of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.
Now, I’m not sure if the story is an existing story slightly edited by Massingham, or if it’s totally fabricated by him. Either way, it feels vaguely familiar and generic enough to work.
As he reads the story, audio cues punctuate every other sentence with a goof or gag. There are a few funny bits in the story itself, but most of them come from these sounds and the asides that come from them. Not every joke lands, but they’re coming thick and fast (and often dad-jokey), so it doesn’t matter. Part of me wishes this was the whole show.
It’d be remiss of me to not mention the sketch that I reckon is Massingham’s favourite. It’s the (post apocalyptic?) religion that follows the teachings from Molly Meldrum’s favourite lyrics of all time (or something similar… I’ve tried looking it up but I don’t think it’s a real book, sadly).
It’s strange and out of nowhere and I love that. Some of the jokes in this section I don’t think are exactly “good” or well crafted - but Massingham is having the greatest time, therefore the audience is too. It feels like the sketch that’s in there just for him.
It’s bonkers and shouldn’t work, but it mostly does.