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Theatre Review: The Way You Tell Them

Rachel Mars' new play is about comedy, but Iman Qureshi is not amused

Fri, 11 Jan 2013 11:25:15 GMT | Updated 2 years today

Ever laughed at a racist joke? Muslims, Arabs, terrorists? (Though some see all those as indistinguishable.) If you haven't, then you're either way too PC, or devoid of fun. Yes we all do it - but why? Especially when we know it isn't exactly appropriate? This is the subject explored in Rachel Mars' new show, The Way You Tell Them.

Presented in a stand-up comedy format, Mars makes use of her own Jewish heritage to demonstrate how humour allows people to get away with expressing all manner of abhorrent views. Mars, who has been dabbling in stand-up comedy herself, uses humour to ease the audience in to the premise of the play.

However, Mars' own comedy falls short of actually truly demonstrating how gratuitous humour can be. She gives us examples of jokes others have used, but this has the effect of attending a lecture on the devices of humour, rather than going to the theatre. The Way You Tell Them might have had a stronger impact if it devoted more time to leading its audience into laughing uproariously at grossly inappropriate jokes, and then proceeding to make the audience feel terribly guilty. As it stands, the play is rambling, and the audience seem to tune in and out without ever really connecting with the material.

There is one joke that Mars tells in order to undercut later, but it doesn't have the desired effect because the joke simply isn't funny; it's about a couple who go on a medical trial and only one survives it - hardly surprising it didn't emit a single laugh. Later, Mars plays a video of one of the men on the medical trial being interviewed about it, and he's clearly devastated by his partner's death. Had we laughed at the story earlier, we would have felt terribly guilty upon watching this; unfortunately, the audience never laughed, so it was effectively redundant.

Rachel Mars, whose play Tomboy Blues at Ovalhouse Theatre in 2011 was exceptionally good, is a great performer and clearly talented, funny and full of fascinating things to say. Unfortunately this play is only half-baked - it needs to go much further viscerally, emotionally and narratively in delivering its message. It never builds up into a climax, the emotion has little depth, the audience are preached to didactically - but only to be told things we already know. The Way You Tell Them is an interesting concept, but sadly, nothing more.

The Way You Tell Them, at the Camden People's Theatre from 9-12, 17-19 and 24-25 January 2013 at 7.30pm.

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