The News from Holsam, is a new macabre sketch show based on a concept by comedy trio Richard Higgs, Chaz Redhead, and Alice Kennedy, A.K.A. ‘Menage a Trois.’ This week, there has been a growing mystique surrounding the show; its debut, peppered with creepy teaser trailers which can be found on the ‘Visit Holsam’ Facebook page set the tone for the show whilst keeping stubbornly ambiguous about any plot or characters.
A vague backwater town somewhere in the American south, ‘Holsam’ and its disturbed inhabitants are the backdrop for this inventive comedy sketch show, executed brilliantly using film, sound, and lighting (as well as lots of blood) to embellish the morbid world they have created. It is among the blackest of comedies: full of nasty shocks, often with an excitingly malevolent attitude to its audience; to spoil any specifics of the sketches would be to do the show a disservice. The potentially problematic high-concept works brilliantly and the sketches and performances are consistently hilarious.
Despite the gruesome horror exterior, the dominant feeling from the performance is, surprisingly, refreshing. Ultimately, this is due to the distinct lack of irony. There are very few nods, winks or relevant 21st Century cultural references in it – something a lot of the comedy relies on far too heavily, perhaps at the expense of charm or personality. Instead, Holsam’s jokes are driven by the characters, situations, puns and wordplay. The audience also appeared uncomfortable with a surprising amount of slapstick right from the start.
This is classic, ‘old-school’ sketch comedy by people who clearly love and understand the genre. It’s a breath of fresh air, especially with the added sting in its tail of murder, blood, Satanists and the omnipresent menace of ‘The Bleeding Man.’ To make a comparison, one could say it has its roots in things like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and certainly The League of Gentlemen. The town of Holsam essentially functions in the sketches in the same way Royston Vasey did in The League. However, the charm and childishness of the sketches should not be underplayed. There is a pinch of Horrible Histories in The News from Holsam that adds an unexpectedly playful, whimsical edge amongst all the violence and screaming of its black vignettes.
As many have come to expect from this cast, the performances were brilliant. James Dolton, Alexandra Martino and Leo West deftly turn into many hilarious characters, all played with an exhausting amount of energy. Particularly impressive was how each member alternated between variations of accents around Bible-Belt USA, depending on which character they were playing. An especially enjoyable voice was Chaz Redhead’s attorney of law (and moonlighting exorcist) character Joseph Goldenstein. Played with a nasal 1930’s ‘Talkie’ speed and corky pronunciations; for example, ‘commercial’ becoming ‘com-er-she-al.’ Yet they had the self-awareness to call attention to how ridiculous it was they were performing in accents. In one of the brilliant moments early on, when the audience had just about adjusted their ears to Yanky drawls, Richard Higgs came on with his unmistakable brummy-brogue clash completely without explanation. The characters are excellent too: recognisable archetypes are twisted and mangled, making the cliques dark and monstrous, for instance Alice Kennedy’s pie cooking ‘Southern-Belle’ Mayor we meet initially becomes… well I won’t spoil it.
The News from Holsam is clearly a labour of love and bursting with ideas, playfulness, comedy and horror. It chases all its macabre whimsies to their logical, grizzly conclusions and hopefully this nasty little show will return for a longer run. It is truly exciting and effervescing with cadaverous, messed up ideas.