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
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.