Mel Brooks once famously said “a good parody should be funny without the viewer watching the subject it’s parodying.” While this philosophy is still true in some cases, it still is based on whether or not the jokes are original or organic. The Vaults, a theatre company in Waterloo, whom I’ve really come to admire for their alternative take on theatre didn’t quite hit the mark this time. King Kong (A comedy) as penned by Daniel Clarkson the same writer behind the hit “Potted” stage shows (which I’m sure were much funnier), tries but never truly does anything creative or new to send up cinema’s most iconic giant ape. I happen to be a fan of King Kong, I have seen the 1933 original by Merian C. Cooper and, for all its flaws, Peter Jackson’s 2005 film. Going in I had the knowledge of what I remembered from seeing both and felt confident that this stage show could deliver a good satire. The story remains pretty much the same, and follows filmmaker Carl Denham’s gamble on sailing to Skull Island to make a motion picture, only for said filmic ambitions to get thwarted when the characters fall foul of the mighty Kong. If you’ve seen both films, you know what happens of course. They take the gorilla back to New York and the rest goes south from there.
The slapstick humour of this show seemed very rooted in the stylings of vaudeville comedy and one liners reminiscent of The Marx Brothers. But whereas the humour in the films of The Marx Brothers was based around natural timing, the jokes here lacked the same punch. A smile only crept in here and there for me because there were times where the production seemed to be improving and then slid down the slope when something barely close to brilliance was surfacing. The production felt like a series of sketches trying to find a cohesive whole, and the intentionally minimalist set felt more at home at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The fourth wall jokes got old fairly quickly and the deconstructive self-awareness towards the 1933 film’s original time period and gender politics seemed forced rather than modernized. I know that the gender politics in the original film weren’t at all politically correct, but there still needs to be some originality and sense of wit around that particular subject.
I know that a parody can be good in the medium of stage theatre; I have seen The Play That Goes Wrong which handled its subject of Agatha Christie and the dire pratfalls of staging an Amateur Dramatics Society production with an amount of freshness while maintaining sustainability. Also most importantly it provides a relatable human focus on the characters. While I applaud the actors here for doing well with the direction and material, I never felt really any connection to the recognizable characters beyond exaggerated caricatures. Some may argue that in a comedy you don’t need to feel much except laugh. The dilemma is that without the necessary substance, you’re not going to be able to care about the people or even laugh. Funnily enough a reference was made to The Vaults’ other current production Alice’s Adventures Underground. That may in fact be a clue that there is another production worth investing your time in.
King Kong (A Comedy) runs at The Vaults until 27 August