Part comedy, part theatre, part polemic, Rebel With A Puncture is an endearingly scattergun show – but it’s based around a clever and consistent premise. Desperate to make ends meet, performer Sam Quinn tells us that he’s embraced the capitalist society by selling the right to insert advertisements into his routine. And to Quinn’s apparent surprise, those adverts blare out at intervals… through a speaker which sits on a chair beside him.
The ludicrous ads – which often pick up, entirely inappropriately, on random words or phrases Quinn has used – are amusing in themselves. And at its best and sharpest, Quinn’s dialogue with the speaker successfully turns this inanimate object into a second character on the stage. But this kind of gambit is incredibly difficult to pull off; it takes perfect timing, and on the day I attended the illusion didn’t quite survive the whole way through.
As side-dish to this central concept, Quinn serves up a few healthy dollops of offbeat, often self-referential humour. He starts by drumming up “audience non-participation” – a logical paradox which it’s best not to think too hard about – and continues on to a series of appalling jokes, which we are strictly forbidden to laugh at. The effect, of course, is to make them hilarious, and an outbreak of physical humour is inexplicably side-splitting as well. I wasn’t sure whether an early dance sequence is another parody, or a genuine demonstration of some impressive moves – but I’m happy with it either way.
At times, though, these great ideas need a little more marshalling, a clearer connection into Quinn’s intended theme. There’s an obvious political undertone to much of the material, culminating with an interesting shock as Quinn proposes an extreme response to capitalism. But that message is somewhat neglected in the earlier parts of the show, and the concluding sermon consequently feels heavy-handed – despite being accompanied by some highly endearing puppetry.
I must also raise an eyebrow at Quinn’s apparent disdain for the people who push refreshment trolleys up and down trains; I realise that he’s criticising the minimum-wage economy, but I’m not sure it helps to imply that anyone’s job is somehow beneath human dignity. The subtler anti-corporate digs worked rather better for me, such as the moment when Quinn reaches into his “medicine and sweets cupboard” to become a disturbingly convincing personification of Coca-Cola.
Overall, Rebel With A Puncture is recognisably early-stage work, brimming with creative thoughts but not yet quite moulded into a well-crafted shape. But it passes the key test for anything listed in the Comedy section – I laughed the whole way through – and it’s an entertaining and mind-expanding way to spend an hour. I’ve high hopes for how this show will evolve as Quinn takes it on.