Tim Key: The Slutcracker, Soho Theatre, London

Julian Hall
Monday 15 February 2010 01:00

With the inaugural Edinburgh Comedy Award bestowed on Tim Key, and the newcomer award on Johnny Sweet, a new wave of clever, lo-fi comedy was recognised at last year's Fringe.

Previous to Tim Key's solo outings as a comedy poet he was part of the sketch group Cowards, which has spawned a number of other understated stars, including musical comedian Tom Basden, a previous newcomer award-winner in Edinburgh, and Fringe theatre favourite, and Fringe First winner, Stefan Golaszewski.

While undoubtedly bright young things, the style of Key and Basden at least, is one of almost jaded bemusement. While not as retiring as Basden, Key's persona still maintains a high degree of ethereality about it, a useful cloak to cover his short poems and acts of whimsy that are also bound together, in this show, by classical music. "I've got 300 pigs/said Dave Pollard/Yet another one of his bloody lies/ 'You haven't even got a farm mate!' one of the locals shouted." So runs his first poem/gag. It's an example, when endowed with his coy timing, of Key's ability to pull the rug from underneath his audience at will, and several times within one attempt.

Breaking up these throwaway delights, and such soulful brevity as "Tanya googled herself. Still nothing", Key offers up lists of animals that he would either fit into, not fit into or need help fitting into, some beautifully shot films of rather flimsy whimsy and an epic challenge to cross the auditorium without touching the floor, a feat based on childhood wonderment.

Key is charming in a deadpan way, and never short of a cheeky aside ("Shakespeare at his best was... Dickensian"), but he doesn't create a firm enough persona to make his material truly memorable. This scrapbook of original ideas remains just that. Though it lacks a fully formed context the attempts to house it, both in terms of a set made up of strewn belongings, from a fridge to a peacock feather, and in terms of some repeated motifs, are admirable.

While not every vehicle for him may be entirely successful, Key's imagination is unfettered and that, theoretically, brings limitless opportunities. Certainly the trajectory of Key's work so far suggests that each new project he undertakes is building on the strengths of the last.

To 20 February (020 7478 0100); Arts Theatre, London 3-6 March (0845 017 5584).

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