Pappy's / Idiots of Ants / The Penny Dreadfuls / The Real MacGuffins, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Sketchy collection fail to deliver a knockout

I'm not a lover of sketch comedy, but each year boy-band groupings (and the occasional girl band like Lady Garden) will insist on returning to the Fringe.

We Are Klang are a rare example of a troupe breaking the traditional parlour skit format that still permeates the genre, and initially Pappy's also helped to wear down my resistance. This year, Pappy's are pared down to the three funny ones, or so the crueller remarks go, but it makes no difference at all with the same-plot template used to house some so-so knockabout comedy, the effect of which is diminished by each show that passes. Perhaps it's because I'm impressed by stand-ups who look like they could do to sketch boys what Ozzy Osbourne used to do to bats. Cute dog characters and an imaginary sketch-off with a rival French troupe just doesn't give me anything to sink my teeth into.

Nor does the technological smoke-screen that is Idiots of Ants' follow-up to last year's Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated show. What's to like? The tedious sub-Muppet sketch where the puppet incarnations try and date a member of the audience, a bit about wedgies, or various shouty sequences including an obvious one inverting lad culture where treating a lady right is the macho thing to do.

Some tangible respite comes in the form of The Penny Dreadfuls, whose acting ability alone is enough to make you breathe a sigh of relief. Their first sketch about a speed racer is like a mini sitcom at times and it could have gone on for a whole adventure-based show, something the popular troupe have done before. Elsewhere, against their highly stylised set, the quality of the shorter sketches ebbs and flows, but there are sufficient twists and turns (for example, a portrait artist who turns out to be doing an artist's impression for the police) to keep proceedings bobbing along nicely.

Acting talent alone is not enough – something that The Real MacGuffins, so plummy they could be one of your five-a-day, demonstrate. Yes, they can act, but they also like to tell quite a few jokes about acting. Despite being caged in knowing, self-referential terms this luvvie material is unappetising. The most obvious example is a sketch about a useless agent who repeats their audition post-mortem catchphrase of "[They] loved you!" incessantly and to no avail.

My quest continues for a knockout sketch show this year, but I can't help feeling that while I'd like to be surprised, I'm more likely to hold my nose than my breath.

To 30 Aug (0131 556 6550)

Pappy’s: 2 Stars

Idiots of Ants: 2 Stars

The Penny Dreadfuls: 3 Stars

The Real MacGuffins: 2 Stars

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